Try the Spirits: A Reformed Look at Pentecostalism
David J. Engelsma
An examination, from the viewpoint of the Reformed
faith, of the religious movement known as Pentecostalism is in order.
For Pentecostalism makes inroads into Reformed churches. Some hold that
the Reformed faith and Pentecostalism are harmonious; others claim that
Pentecostalism is the completion of the Reformation in our time; others
openly proclaim that the Pentecostal religion replaces the historic
To conduct this examination is legitimate. It is
common that Pentecostals scare off would-be critics by insinuating that
criticism of Pentecostalism is the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against
the Holy Spirit. A Reformed man is not intimidated by this scare-tactic.
More than once in the history of the Church, false teachers tried to
gain entrance into the church by appealing to the Spirit. An outstanding
example is the appearance of fanatics at the time of the Protestant
Reformation of the 16th century, who harassed the Lutherans in
Wittenberg. These were the "heavenly prophets" and "enthusiasts" who
claimed to receive special revelations from the Spirit and to perform
miracles. They cowed Melanchthon; but they did not cow Luther. When they
screamed, "The Spirit, the Spirit," Luther replied, "I slap your spirit
on the snout."
The Reformed man and woman know the instruction of
the Spirit of Christ in Holy Scripture: "Beloved, believe not every
spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false
prophets are gone out into the world" (I
The standard of the examination of the spirits,
including the spirit of Pentecostalism, is Holy Scripture, the inspired
Word of God. In the light of Scripture the question must be this: does
this spirit, this religious movement, confess Jesus Christ (I
John 4:2,3); does it abide "in the doctrine of Christ" (II
John 9)? For the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus Christ and brings the
doctrine of Christ.
Our examination of Pentecostalism must include a
consideration of its criticism of the Christian life of Reformed
believers. For Pentecostalism belittles the life of "mere believers."
The effect of Pentecostalism is that believers wonder
whether their life is what it should be—a normal Christian life.
Believers are even made to doubt whether they are saved Christians at
all. In the final analysis, Pentecostalism's appeal to religious people
is its boast of a higher, fuller, deeper, richer Christian life.
Pentecostalism exults in a Christian life that is all power, all
excitement, all joy, all victory.
Let no one suppose that, because we speak of a
examination of Pentecostalism, the concern of the examination is
limited to those who are members of a Reformed church. The Reformed
faith represents Protestantism—biblical Christianity. As will be
evident, the standard by which the Reformed faith conducts the
examination is Holy Scripture—the rule of faith and life for every
professing Christian. Under the clear light of Holy Scripture,
Pentecostalism displays features that mark it unmistakably as a form of
an age-old, and quite familiar, threat to Christianity.
The Reformed Answer to Pentecostalism's Basic
By Pentecostalism, we understand the religious
movement that teaches a second, distinct work of grace in the child of
God which is referred to as the "baptism with the Holy Spirit." At some
moment after regeneration (or, conversion), the believer receives the
Holy Spirit, usually as a marvellous, emotional experience, in such a way
that now, for the first time, he has a wonderful feeling of joy;
possesses power for dynamic Christian life and service; and exercises an
extraordinary gift of the Spirit, namely, speaking in tongues. Even
though the believer received Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and
sanctification before this, it is not until the baptism with the Spirit
lifts him to a much higher spiritual level that he is enabled to live
the full, joyful, powerful, real Christian life.
It is this doctrine that constitutes the very heart
of Pentecostalism. Other features of Pentecostalism may attract the
attention of the onlooker, e.g., tongues, miracles, and the exuberance
of the meetings; but the movement stands or falls with its novel
doctrine of salvation—its second baptism. The fundamental criticism that
the Reformed faith makes of this religion is that it is heretical in its
doctrine of salvation. The Pentecostals identify this "Holy Spirit
baptism" with the coming of the Spirit on the 120 believers on the day
of Pentecost. From this comes the name of the movement: Pentecostalism.
Since the Spirit is supposed to give extraordinary
gifts to those who are thus baptized, the movement is also called the
"charismatic movement." In the Greek of the New Testament, the word
meaning "gifts" is 'charismata" (cf.
I Cor. 12:4). The gifts which Pentecostalism makes much of are
tongues; interpretation of tongues; prophecy; miracles; and the power to
cast out devils. The main gift is tongues-speaking. Therefore, the
movement is sometimes called the "tongues movement."
Neo-Pentecostalism is the name given to this movement
as it is practiced within the established Protestant churches and within
the Roman Catholic church. There have been Pentecost churches since the
early 1900s, e.g., the Assemblies of God. In the early 1960s, men in the
established Protestant churches began advocating Pentecostal beliefs and
practices within their churches. The leader is generally recognized to
be the Episcopalian, Dennis Bennett. By this time, there is hardly a
denomination that does not tolerate, or approve, practicing Pentecostals
among its membership.
Pentecostalism claims that its doctrine of the
baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace and its teaching of
the presence in the church of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are
biblical. It finds in
Acts 2, as well as in
Acts 8, 10, and 19, that there was a distinct reception of the Holy
Spirit by believers subsequent to their conversion, a reception of the
Spirit that gave the believers great power and that bestowed upon them
special gifts. It points us to
I Corinthians 12 as proof that the gifts of the Spirit to the New
Testament church include healing, the working of miracles, prophecy,
tongues, and the like.
What is the Reformed answer to these appeals to the
Bible in support of the Pentecostal teachings of the baptism with the
Spirit and the extraordinary gifts?
Baptism with the Spirit
There is a baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is an
essential part of salvation. This is plain from John the Baptist's
description of the saving work of Jesus: "he shall baptize you with the
Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt.
3:11; cf. also
Luke 3:16; and
John 1:33). But it is not a second work of the Spirit subsequent to
regeneration and the gift of faith. Nor is it limited to some Christians
only, those who have fulfilled certain conditions and made themselves
worthy of this higher stage of salvation. Christ's baptism with the
Spirit is His one, saving work by His Spirit in every elect child of
God. It is his regeneration, the new birth from heaven (John
3:1-8). It is his cleansing from sin and consecration to God by the
pouring out of the Spirit into his heart. Of this spiritual reality,
John's baptism with water was a sign. The sacrament of baptism in the
Church is a sign of the baptism with the Spirit, as
Titus 3:5-6 teaches: "according to his mercy he saved us, by the
washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed
on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour."
There is only one baptism in the Church of Jesus
Christ: the baptism with the Holy Spirit signified by the sprinkling
with water in the Name of the Triune God. This is the apostle's teaching
Ephesians 4:5: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Pentecostalism
has two baptisms: a first, lower baptism—salvation from sin (of which
the sign is water); and a second, higher baptism—the baptism with the
Holy Spirit. In this way, Pentecostalism divides Christ, salvation, and
Christ's baptism of every one of His people with the
Holy Spirit depends solely upon His work of meriting this gift for them
by His death. It does not depend upon works that the people must
perform. Therefore, every elect child of God not only may receive it,
but also does receive it. "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost,"
To be sure, baptism with the Spirit is the reception
of great power by every one so baptized, as Christ instructed His
Acts 1:8: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is
come upon you ..." But Scripture must teach us what this power consists
of and how it is exercised. As concerns the Church, it is the power of
witnessing to Christ: "... and ye shall be witnesses unto me ..." (Acts
1:8). The mark of a Spirit-baptized church, therefore, is the
faithful proclamation of Christ.
As concerns the individual child of God, the nature
of the power of the baptism with the Spirit is indicated by John the
Baptist when he says that we are baptized "with the Holy Ghost and
fire." We receive the Spirit as a fire; He dwells and works in us as
a fire. Fire purifies by utterly burning away the dross that defiles the
precious metal. The Holy Spirit, similarly, burns away our sin, so that
we may be consecrated to God in the obedience of love. The power of the
baptism with the Spirit is the awesome power of sanctification. Exactly
this was the prophecy of the baptism with the Spirit in the Old
Testament. In the day when the "branch of the LORD" is beautiful and
glorious, the remnant of grace "shall be called holy, even every one
that is written among the living in Jerusalem: When the Lord shall have
washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged
the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment,
and by the spirit of burning" (Isaiah
The mark of a Spirit-baptized Christian, therefore,
is sorrow over sin (repentance) and obedience to God's law (holiness).
Have you been born again (and you certainly have, if
you believe on Jesus Christ)? Are you sorry for your sinfulness and your
sins? Is there a beginning in your life, small as it may be, of
obedience to all of the commandments of God 's law? Then you have been
baptized with the Holy Spirit; and the sacrament is a sign and seal to
you of your baptism with the Spirit, as long as you live. Let no one
deceive you, that you must still look for another, better baptism.
How is it then to be explained that in the book of
Acts there obviously were two, distinct works of the Holy Spirit upon
some of God's people? The disciples of Jesus—Peter, John, and
others—were reborn, saved men prior to the day of Pentecost. This, of
course, was due to the gracious operation of the Spirit upon their
hearts. Yet, on the day of Pentecost these men "were all filled with the
Holy Ghost" (Acts
2:4). The Spirit was poured out upon them (Acts
2:16-18). They were then "baptized with the Holy Ghost" (Acts
Pentecostalism appeals to this history in Acts as
proof for its contention that there must be two, distinct works of grace
in the life of every Christian: regeneration (or, conversion) and the
baptism in the Holy Spirit. The experience of the disciples, and others,
in the book of Acts is regarded as normative for every child of God.
Pentecostalism insists that Pentecost be repeated, over and over, for
every member of the church. One of the leading Pentecostal writers,
Donald Gee, speaks of "a personal Pentecost" for every Christian
(A New Discovery).
This betrays a complete misunderstanding of the great
event of Pentecost. It is as foolish to demand a personal Pentecost as
it would be to demand a personal incarnation of Jesus, or a personal
death of Jesus, or a personal resurrection of Jesus.
Pentecost was the exalted Christ's gift of the Holy
Spirit to His church. The Spirit was given in rich, full measure—He was
"poured out." He was given as the One who brings to the church the first fruits of the finished work of Jesus Christ, the benefits of
Christ's death and resurrection, i.e., Christ's salvation. In the gift
of the Spirit, the gospel-promise of the Old Testament was fulfilled to
the church (Acts
Gal. 3:14), because the Son of God gave to God's people full
salvation—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He baptized the church
with the Holy Spirit (Acts
1:5). Being mightier than John the Baptist, He flooded the church
with the reality, whereas John could only give the sign (Matt.
That grand Sunday marked the passing of the old age
and the coming of the new; it is the boundary between the old
dispensation and the new. The distinction between the Old Testament and
the New Testament is a matter of the fullness of the Holy Spirit; and
the fullness of the Holy Spirit is a matter of the full riches of
Christ's accomplished salvation. This is the teaching of
John 7:37-39: "... for the Holy Ghost was not yet; because that
Jesus was not yet glorified." In the time of the Old Testament, prior to
Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not yet. He and His saving work were not
absolutely lacking, for He saved God's people under the old covenant,
even as He now saves us. But He was not present with the fullness and
richness of salvation with which He now dwells in the church. He could
not, for Christ had not yet died and risen, actually to acquire that
rich and full salvation. As Christmas was the birthday of the Son of God
in the flesh, Pentecost was the "birthday" of the Spirit as the Spirit
of Christ in the church.
Pentecost, like the incarnation, crucifixion,
resurrection, and ascension, was a once-for-all-time event. Fifty days
after He arose, Jesus sent His Spirit to His church. This is never again
repeated, anymore than Jesus' death is repeated. It is nonsense, if not
heresy, to preach each Christian's personal Pentecost. This is why it is
mistaken, to expect the reappearance of the signs of Pentecost down
through the history of the church. The sound as of a mighty rushing
wind, the cloven tongues as of fire, and the disciples' speaking with
other tongues were the signs, once for all, of the historical event of
the outpouring of the Spirit, just as the great earthquake was the sign
of the resurrection of Jesus. To be sure, these signs are intended to be
my signs in the 20th century, as much as they were intended to be signs
for Peter in A.D. 33; but they are mine, not by being repeated in my
experience, but by being written down on the pages of Holy Scripture and
by being received through faith.
When Pentecostals try to gainsay the once-for-all
character of Pentecost, they point to the incidents in the book of Acts
which seemingly are repetitions of Pentecost: the Spirit's falling upon
the Samaritan converts (Acts
8:5-24); the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his
Acts 11:15-18); and the coming of the Spirit on the disciples of
19:1-7). In reality, these incidents are special events, intended by
God to demonstrate that the unrepeatable wonder of Pentecost extends to
all the church, specifically the half-heathens (Samaritans), the
outright heathens (household of Cornelius), and the disciples of John
the Baptist. They are extensions of Pentecost to the full church, the
furthest outworking of Pentecost.
In light of the significance of Pentecost, we can
readily understand that, on the day of Pentecost, men and women who had
already been saved received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that they
then enjoyed new riches of salvation and hitherto unknown power. This is
not indicative of two works of grace in every Christian; this is not
normative for all believers, as if we too must expect, and long, to pass
from "mere salvation through faith" to the higher level of feeling and
power of a "Spirit baptism." The explanation is found in the unique
historical position of the saints who lived through Pentecost. They
lived through the transition from the old dispensation to the new
dispensation, from the Spirit's not being yet to His being, from
Christ's not yet being glorified to His being glorified. Before that
moment, those saints were saved; now, as the new dispensation dawns, they
receive the gift of the Spirit in His fullness, i.e., the completed
salvation of the glorified Christ. At Pentecost, they advance, not from
a first level of grace to a second, higher level of grace, but from the
infancy of the church of the Old Covenant to the maturity of the church
of the New Covenant (Gal.
We recoil from the suggestion that each of us must
repeat the experience of Pentecost. In this case, we must go back for
awhile into the old dispensation, to live under the law in the types and
shadows, so that, at some point, we can pass into the new dispensation.
Even if this were possible, we would refuse, having heard the warnings
of Galatians and Hebrews.
We New Testament saints receive the Spirit of the
glorified Christ, with the full Christ and all His benefits, at once, as
soon as He regenerates us, takes up His abode in us, baptizes us into
Christ's body, the church, and unites us to Christ by a true and living
faith. Certainly, the blessing of Pentecost is ours, every bit as much
as it was the blessing of the 120 in the upper room in Jerusalem;
certainly, we share in Pentecost, as really and fully as if we had been
among those 120 believers. This is as necessary as our sharing in the
death and resurrection of Christ. If one does not share in Christ's
death and resurrection, or in Pentecost, he simply is not saved. But I
do not share in Christ's death by that death's being repeated somehow in
my personal history and experience. I share in Christ's death and
resurrection by faith: by faith, I am crucified with Christ and rise
with Him. Just so, by this same faith I share in Pentecost. The blessing
of that great day, now almost 2000 years past, becomes mine personally
through the faith, worked in me by the Spirit, that unites me to Christ
and to His body, the church, to whom the Spirit was then given and in
whom the Spirit dwells forever. This is the teaching of
Galatians 3: "that we might receive the promise of the Spirit
through faith" (v. 14).
The Gift of Tongues
The other of the two outstanding features of
Pentecostalism is its doctrine, and alleged practice, concerning
extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, especially tongues. For this too, it
claims to find support in Scripture, particularly
I Corinthians 12-14. What is the Reformed answer to this teaching
and its appeal to the Bible?
There was, in the time of the apostles, a gift of
tongues, whether this gift be explained as the ability to speak foreign
languages without having learned them, or as the ability to speak
totally new, unknown languages.
I Corinthians 14 indicates that at least one aspect of the gift of
tongues in those days was the ability to speak in an altogether new,
unknown language. No one, including the speaker, understood what was
said (vv. 2, 14). Interpretation of the tongue was, like the tongue
itself a gift of the Spirit (v.13. cf.
I Cor. 12:10). The speaker in tongues did not speak to men, but to
God (v.2). The benefit of it was not the edification of others, but his
own edification (v. 4). "In the spirit," the tongues-speaker "speaketh
mysteries" (v. 2).
There were also other extraordinary gifts of the
Spirit in those days: the gift of receiving special revelations from
God; the gift of casting out devils; the gift of taking up serpents; the
gift of drinking deadly things without hurt; the gift of healing the
sick by laying on of hands; and the gift of raising the dead (cf.
I Cor. 12:1-11).
Among these gifts, the ability to speak in tongues
was a gift of lesser importance. In the list of gifts in
I Corinthians 12:28-31, tongues and interpretation of tongues come
at the end and are not among the "best gifts" which the Corinthians
I Corinthians 14:39 merely instructs the Corinthians not to forbid
tongues, whereas it exhorts them to covet prophecy. Throughout
I Corinthians 14, the apostle minimizes the importance of tongues in
comparison with prophecy, while exposing the many abuses of the gift of
tongues among the Corinthians. Also, tongues was a gift that was not
possessed by all the Corinthians, or expected to be possessed by all (I
Cor. 12:20). It is passing strange, to say the very least, that
Pentecostalism, with all its bluster of restoring New Testament
Christianity, makes tongues the gift of the Spirit, par excellence,
ascribing to it, both in theory and in practice, a pre-eminence that it
did not have even in the days of the apostles, and that Pentecostalism
holds that every Christian should possess this gift, as if Paul had
never written, "Do all speak with tongues?".
Pentecostalism's argument for miracles today is
simple: Scripture teaches that the miraculous was part of the life and
ministry of the church during the time of the apostles; therefore, the
gift of performing miracles should be found in the church today.
Ignored by Pentecostalism is Scripture's teaching
that miracles were "signs of an apostle." The power of doing miracles
was attached to the apostolic office and had as its purpose the
authenticating of the apostles as special servants of Christ and the
confirming of their doctrine as the gospel of God. This does not imply
that only the apostles could perform miracles; in fact, other saints
also possessed the gift of the working of miracles. But it does mean
that the miraculous was apostolic: it derived from the apostolic office
present in the church at that time, and it served to attest the apostles
and their doctrine. Miracles were the credentials of the apostles.
The necessity of miracles during the apostolic age is
to be found in the unique labor of the apostles. They laid the
foundation of the New Testament Church of Christ. Paul writes, in
Ephesians 2:20, that the Gentile believers, with the saints of
Israel, "are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets."
The apostles are the foundation of the Church, even as Christ is "the
chief corner stone." They are the foundation by virtue of the Word which
they proclaim and write. Similarly, in
I Corinthians 3:10, Paul claims to have laid the foundation of the
Church at Corinth, whereas others then build upon this foundation:
"According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise
masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth
That miracles, including the miracle of tongues, were
part of the apostolic office is taught in
II Corinthians 12:12: "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought
among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds."
Paul is defending his apostleship in view of the attack on that
apostleship at Corinth. He laments, in verse II, that he was not
commended of the Corinthians, even though "in nothing am I behind the
very chiefest apostles." The Corinthians should have recognized and
honoured Paul's apostleship, for Christ gave clear proof of it in the
miracles that He worked through Paul. Miracles are described as signs,
wonders, and mighty deeds. They are called "... signs of an apostle."
Literally, we read: "the signs of the apostle." Miracles indicate the
presence and power of apostleship. They belong to the apostolic office.
Hebrews 2:3-4 also connects the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit
with the apostolic office. The first three verses of the chapter area
warning against neglecting the "so great salvation." One makes himself
guilty of this by refusing to give earnest heed to the Word of God. For
we have this salvation through the Word: "How shall we escape, if we
neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the
Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?" The great
salvation is spoken; we have it by hearing. The passage establishes the
primacy of the preaching of the Word as the means of salvation. Even in
the apostolic age, not miracles, not extraordinary gifts of the Spirit,
but the proclamation of the Word was the main thing. Miracles were
secondary; they were strictly subservient to the apostolic doctrine.
But the passage also clearly teaches that miracles
belonged to the apostolic office and ministry. The author has said that
the New Testament saints, the Hebrew Christians in particular, have the
Word of God that brings them salvation. They must give heed to this
Word; and they must not let it slip: "Therefore we ought to give the
more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we
should let them slip." How do we come to have the Word of God? It was
first spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. Then it was confirmed unto us by
"them that heard Him." These are the apostles. Concerning these
apostles, verse 4 states: "God also bearing them witness, both with
signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy
Ghost, according to his own will." The reference is to miracles,
described, as in
II Corinthians 12:12, as "signs and wonders and miracles" (this
last, "miracles," being the same word as that translated "mighty deeds"
II Corinthians 12:12). Strikingly, this passage also speaks of
"gifts of the Holy Ghost." The word, "gifts," could better be translated
as "distributions." The distributions of the Holy Ghost are the
extraordinary gifts of the Spirit found in the Church at the time of the
apostles. Among them were the gift of "kinds of tongues" and the gift of
"the interpretation of tongues," as
I Corinthians 12:10 shows. Miracles and extraordinary gifts of the
Spirit were God's witness to those who heard Christ, i.e., the apostles.
The purpose of this witness was the apostles' confirming of Christ's
Word to us, i.e., to attest the apostolic doctrine as the very Word of
God. Miracles and the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are not for all
time, but were for the apostolic age; they were attached by the Divine
will to the office of the apostle in order that they might confirm the
Word which the apostles brought.
The same thing is taught in
Mark 16:20: "And they (the apostles, to whom the risen Christ had
given the commission to go into all the world and preach the
gospel—D.J.E.) went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working
with them, and confirming the word with signs following." The signs, or
miracles, were the Lord's powerful confirmation to the Word preached by
the apostles. In like manner, the Lord authenticated the Word brought by
His apostle, Paul, and his colleague, Barnabas: "Long time therefore
abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the
word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their
Now the apostolic office was not a permanent office
in the Church, but a temporary office. The qualifications of an apostle
show this. An apostle was required to have seen the risen Jesus, so that
he could preach a resurrection of which he had himself been an
Cor. 9:1). He had to be called and commissioned by the risen Lord
Acts 26:15-18), which included that he received the gospel from
Jesus Himself (Gal.
The specific task of the apostle also indicates the
temporary nature of the office. This task was the laying of the
foundation of the church. One does not forever lay the foundation of a
building. There comes a time when the foundation is laid. Then those
whose work is foundation-laying are removed; and others, pastors and
teachers, whose calling it is to build on the foundation, are given the
But if the office of apostle has disappeared, so also
must the miraculous have disappeared ("the signs of an apostle"!), for
the miraculous was part of that office and served that ministry.
By the same token, those who insist on miracles today
must produce apostles also. Let the Pentecostals put forward their
apostles! It is noteworthy that the Irvingite movement, a precursor of
Pentecostalism in England in the 1800s, named after its leader, Edward
Irving, did appoint twelve apostles. In doing so, the movement was
consistent. It is also worthy of note that, although it hesitates to
call them apostles, Pentecostalism today is ascribing to its leaders
powers that only apostles possess: a personal, absolute authority over
the church, or fellowship; new revelations of His will for the church
from God; extra-Biblical teachings which are binding upon the saints.
Church history witnesses to the truth of Scripture's
teaching that miracles and extraordinary gifts were temporary. Miracles
ceased in the Church about A.D. 100, roughly at the time of the death of
the last apostle. For a time after this, only the heretical and
schismatic sects claimed the power of doing miracles, e.g., the
Montanists (a second century sect named after its leader, Montanus). As
time passed, the power of doing miracles began again to be claimed and
stressed within the catholic church; but, significantly, this went hand
in hand with the church's departure from the truth of the gospel. The
Roman Catholic Church, of course, has always claimed the power of
performing miracles and has always bewitched her people with these
The purified church of the Reformation expressly
disavowed all miracles. The Reformation was confronted with miracles on
two fronts: Rome and the Anabaptist groups with their mystical "religion
of the Spirit." Both Rome and the mystics appealed to their miracles as
proof that they were the true religion and taunted the Reformation with
its lack of miracles. Intuitively striking to the very heart of the
issue—and this is the heart of the issue also today as regards
Pentecostalism, Luther called the people of God to believe, live by, and
stick to the bare Word of God, even though heretics were producing a
veritable snowstorm of miracles in order to seduce them from the truth.
John Calvin gave a more detailed explanation of the Reformed position:
In demanding miracles from us, they act
dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retained
the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles
which Christ and the apostles ever wrought. But they have a
peculiarity which we have not—they can confirm their faith by
constant miracles down to the present day! Nay rather, they allege
miracles which might produce wavering in minds otherwise well
disposed; they are so frivolous and ridiculous, so vain and false.
But were they even exceedingly wonderful, they could have no effect
against the truth of God, whose name ought to be hallowed always,
and everywhere, whether by miracles, or by the natural course of
events. The deception would perhaps be more specious if Scripture
did not admonish us of the legitimate end and use of miracles. Mark
tells us (Mark
16:20) that the signs which followed the preaching of the
apostles were wrought in confirmation of it; so Luke also relates
that the Lord "gave testimony to the word of his grace, and granted
signs and wonders to be done" by the hands of the apostles (Acts
14:3) ... And it becomes us to remember that Satan has his
miracles, which, although they are tricks rather than true wonders,
are still such as to delude the ignorant and unwary. (Institutes,
Prefatory Address to the King of France)
The wonders of Pentecostalism, like the miracles of
Rome, are fraudulent. They are part and parcel of the only miracles that
Scripture prophesies for the last days: the signs and wonders of the
false christs and false prophets who would deceive the very elect, if it
were possible (Matt.
24:24); the power and signs and lying wonders of the man of sin who
will deceive those who do not receive the love of the truth (II
Beware! Do not be hoodwinked by the modern-day
The Reformed Church has no need of miracles. Her
faith is the doctrine of the apostles, who received it from Jesus. This
doctrine has already been confirmed by many miracles. It needs no
further attestation. The only gospel that requires new miracles is a new
gospel. But this does not imply that the Reformed religion is a religion
without miracles. Pentecostalism would like to leave this impression: it
is a gospel with miracles—the full gospel, whereas the Reformed faith is
a gospel lacking miracles and, therefore, less than a full gospel.
First, the Reformed believer sees the almighty power
of God in all of creation and in every aspect of earthly life. The daily
rising of the sun, the annual quickening of nature in springtime, the
blooming of a single rose, the conception of a baby, the upheaval of an
earthquake, the rise and fall of nations, health and life, and a piece
of bread on my table—all are the almighty, everywhere present,
incomprehensible working of the power of God. The Christ of our faith is
the sovereign Lord who is presently upholding and governing all things
by the Word of His power in a most marvellous manner (Heb.
Second, we Reformed people claim as our own every
miracle that is recorded on the pages of Scripture. The notion that one
does not have miracles unless miracles are done by him, or before his
eyes, is foolish. The miracle of the creation of the world, the miracle
of the flood, the miracle of the fire of Jehovah devouring Elijah's
sacrifice, the miracle of the incarnation, the miracle of Peter's
raising of Dorcas, and all the others are my miracles, as truly as if I
experienced them, not only because they were deliverances of the church
of which I am a member, but also because they astound me, make me adore
God, and strengthen my faith in His Word, as much as if I saw them done
with my very own eyes. Reformed believers have an abundance of wonders
in the Bible; any additional miracle, prior to the coming of the Lord
Jesus, would be superfluous.
Third, the Word proclaimed by the Reformed church
constantly accomplishes many, great miracles. It raises the spiritually
dead; it opens the eyes of the spiritually blind; it makes the
spiritually lame to leap as a hart; it pulls down the fortresses of
Satan in human hearts and lives (Isaiah 35;
II Cor. 10:3-6). By the power of the Holy Spirit, the truth effects
the miracle of salvation: faith, repentance, forgiveness, and holiness.
These are astounding wonders, far greater, should we be inclined to make
the comparison, than miracles of physical healing, to say nothing of the
trivial, nonsensical "miracles" so often boasted of by Pentecostalism.
The spiritual wonders of the gospel, in fact, are the reality of which
the physical healing by Jesus and His apostles was a sign.
No, the Reformed Church is not a church devoid of
But our main purpose has been to answer
Pentecostalism's arguments from Scripture for its doctrine of Holy
Spirit baptism and for its practice of miracles, especially tongues.
This has been done. In answering its appeals to Scripture, we have shown
from Scripture that Pentecostalism is heretical in its doctrine of
salvation (Holy Spirit baptism) and fraudulent in its miracles.
The Reformed faith judges Pentecostalism to be a
different religion from that of Luther, Calvin, and the Reformed
creeds—a fundamental departure from the faith once delivered to the
The Reformed Testing of Pentecostalism's Spirit
Pentecostalism replaces the Word of God in the church
and in the life of the member of the church with experience, i.e., human
feeling. This is one of its basic errors. Essentially, it is an attack
on the Word, whether it replaces the Word completely, or whether it
shoves the Word into the background, or whether it places experience
alongside the Word. The movement runs down doctrine and speaks
disparagingly of orthodoxy. Albert B. Simpson, the well-known
Pentecostal preacher, expressed the Pentecostal attitude toward sound
doctrine, when he called his Holy Spirit baptism, "the funeral of my dogmatics." Wherever it appears, Pentecostalism does away with the
creeds. One of the "gifts" which it has restored is that of special
revelations given directly from God to certain "prophets." This is the
denial of the sole authority and full sufficiency of Scripture—a
deathblow to sola scriptura (Scripture alone). Hearing and
believing the Word is no longer the central thing, but the experience of
the Spirit baptism.
This replacement of the Word with experience
identifies Pentecostalism as a revival of the ancient heresy of
mysticism: salvation as immediate contact with God. Pentecostalism's
favourite words are "experience," "power," "ecstasy," and the like. This
is its Spirit baptism; this is the nature of the Pentecostal meeting;
this is its appeal to religious people; this is why women have a leading
place in the movement.
That Pentecostalism is mysticism, indeed mysticism
run amok, is readily illustrated from Pentecostal sources. The Full
Gospel Business Men's Voice (a Pentecostal magazine) of June, 1960
gives a description of his baptism with the Holy Spirit by a minister
who, disturbed by his "lack of power," had sought the baptism in fire:
Directly, there came into my hands a strange
feeling, and it came on down to the middle of my arms and began to
surge! It was like a thousand—like ten thousand—then a million volts
of electricity. It began to shake my hands and to pull my hands. I
could hear, as it were, a zooming sound of the power. It pulled my
hands higher and held them there as though God took them in His.
There came a voice in my soul that said, "Lay these hands on the
sick and I will heal them!" ... but I didn't have the baptism ... In an air-conditioned room, with my hands lifted...and my heart
reaching up for my God, there came the hot, molten lava of His love.
It poured in like a stream from Heaven and I was lifted up out of
myself. I spoke in a language I could not understand for about two
hours. My body perspired as though I was in a steambath: the Baptism
of Fire! (quoted in Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy
Spirit, p. 127)
Surely, this would have embarrassed Jacob Boehme,
mystic that he was.
John Sherrill, a prominent Pentecostal, writes of
seeing Jesus as a bright white light in his hospital room (cf. his
They Speak with Other Tongues). Donald Gee, another leading
Pentecostal, describes the Pentecostal baptism this way: "We are taken
into God, and the soul will receive a consuming desire to ever more be
utterly and entirely lost in Him"—the typical language of mysticism (cf.
A New Discovery, p. 23).
A second fundamental error of Pentecostalism is its
giving the Holy Spirit center-stage, while relegating Jesus to the
wings, if not pushing Him offstage, entirely. It is forced to deny this,
just as Rome is forced to deny that the cult of Mary actually replaces
Jesus, but the fact remains. The truth of this charge is obvious on the
very face of the movement. The Spirit gets the attention in
Pentecostalism. The work of the Spirit, not that of the Son, is
celebrated and exalted. The very name by which this movement calls
itself gives it away: Pentecostalism—a name that has to do with the
Spirit. Scripture, however, gives the people of God the name,
Christian—a name that has to do with the Son, Jesus.
This disparagement of Jesus in favour of the Spirit is
rooted deeply in basic Pentecostal doctrine. Pentecostalism teaches that
the child of God must go beyond Christ to the higher level of the
Spirit, must advance beyond "merely" receiving Christ by faith to
receiving the Spirit by the Holy Spirit baptism.
Pentecostalism insults Christ.
Whatever spirit replaces Christ, disparages Christ,
or goes beyond Christ is not the Spirit of Christ, but one of the
spirits of antichrist, for the Spirit of Christ reveals Christ,
bestows Christ, calls attention to the work of Christ, and glorifies
Christ. "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you
from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the
Father, he shall testify of me" (John
15:26). "He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and
shall shew it unto you" (John
A third, related error is Pentecostalism's minimizing
of faith. Flying straight in the face of the testimony of the Bible that
in Jesus Christ nothing else avails anything at all, "but faith which
worketh by love" (Gal.
5:6), Pentecostalism insists that faith in Christ is not enough—not
nearly enough. Something additional is required, which avails very much
indeed, namely, Holy Spirit baptism. Ignoring completely Scripture's
gracious praise of the believer as the one who shall not be confounded
and who belongs to the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy
nation, and the people of God's possession (I
Pet. 2:9), Pentecostalism slights those who "merely" believe,
extolling instead those baptized in the Spirit. With the belittling of
faith goes a stress on all kinds of human works. Pentecostalism puts a
premium on certain works that are alleged to be conditions for receiving
the baptism with the Spirit: praying intensely, cleansing one's heart
from all sin, yielding oneself completely, and the like. Most highly
prized, of course, is the human work of speaking in tongues. Believing
on the Son of God must take a back seat to this!
It is not surprising, then, that Pentecostalism
practically ignores the one fundamental blessing of salvation for the
child of God, the blessing received through faith: the forgiveness of
sins. In the place of the gospel's "Blessed are they whose iniquities
are forgiven" (Rom.
Psalm 32:1), Pentecostalism pronounces its "Blessed are they who
enjoy the ecstasy and power of the Holy Spirit baptism."
Whatever belittles faith, whatever adds to faith,
whatever goes beyond faith is of the devil, is another gospel; and
whoever falls away to this heresy is fallen from grace. The first verses
Galatians 5 sound the clear, sharp warning that there may be nothing
in addition to, much less beyond, faith. To add something to faith, for
the reception of salvation, is utterly to forfeit Christ: In this case,
"Christ shall profit you nothing" (v. 2); "ye are fallen from grace"
Sola fide! Faith alone! All of salvation is by
faith only! "For by grace are ye saved through faith... not of works,
lest any man should boast" (Eph.
2:8-9). Our salvation begins, continues, and is perfected by faith
Pentecostalism is proud. It is arrogant in its
attitude toward the church of the past. Until about A.D. 1900, there was
no such thing as the Pentecostal baptism with the Spirit within the church. Athanasius and Augustine did not have it. Luther and Calvin did
not have it. The Reformed saints of the Netherlands who died by the
scores of thousands under the Roman Catholic persecution in the 16th
century did not have it. On the contrary, they explicitly repudiated it.
Augustine expresses the mind of the church of the past:
In the earliest time the Holy Ghost fell upon
them that believed: and they spake with tongues, which they had not
learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance." These were signs
adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the
Holy Spirit in all tongues, and to shew that the Gospel of God was
to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done
for a betokening and it passed away. ("Ten Homilies on the First
Epistle of John," The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.
What does Pentecostalism say about this? "Up till now
the church has been a very poor and lifeless church. The full gospel,
the full salvation, and the full Christian life start with us."
Put all of Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism on a
pile, and the whole heap is not worthy to untie the shoelace of one
Luther, or of one Calvin, or of one Reformed saint who believes the
gospel of Scripture, trusts in Christ for his righteousness, fears the
Lord, keeps the commandments, brings up his family in the truth, and
worships God in spirit and in truth.
Pentecostalism is also arrogant in its attitude
toward the "mere" believer. The Pentecostal is the elite in the
the super-saint; all others are "merely" converted Christians. This
arrogance is not so much a matter of the personal sin of
the Pentecostal as it is of Pentecostal doctrine. Pentecostalism
teaches two baptisms in the church: the inferior baptism of the washing
away of sins (of which the sign is the application of water) and the
superior baptism with the Holy Spirit (of which the initial sign is
tongues). All Christians receive the former; but only some receive the
latter—the super saints. In its fundamental doctrine, therefore,
Pentecostalism is schismatic. It does not endeavour to keep the unity of
the Spirit in the bond of peace, as Christ's apostle beseeches in
Ephesians 4:3, but rends it. Unity in the congregation is rooted in
"one baptism", according to verse 5 of
Ephesians 4. To posit two baptisms is as destructive of unity as
would be the positing of two faiths, or two Lords, or two Gods.
Spiritual pride in every form is divisive; humility nourishes oneness.
Elders only deceive themselves when they tolerate Pentecostalism within
the congregation, but warn it to "keep the peace."
The explanation of this pride is that Pentecostalism
is a religion of man. It centers on man's feelings and on man's
possession of power. It assigns to man the decisive duty of performing
the works that are conditions for the perfecting of salvation in the
Holy Spirit baptism. It allows man to receive extra-biblical revelations
and to bind the congregation by them. It empowers a man to exercise a
sovereign headship over a congregation, or over a fellowship of
congregations, and to regulate the life of the people according to his
will. The spirit honoured by Pentecostalism is not the Spirit who
glorifies Christ (John
16:14), applies Christ's redemption (Heidelberg Catechism,
A. 53: "He [i.e., the
Holy Spirit] is also given me, to make me ... partaker of Christ and
all His benefits"), guides into the truth that Christ has spoken in the
inspired Scriptures (John
16:13), and gives Himself to all of Christ's people through faith (Gal.
3:14). This One is the Spirit who magnifies God. But the spirit of
Pentecostalism calls attention to itself, bestows its own benefits of
salvation, speaks of itself, and operates apart from the hearing of
faith. This one is a spirit that caters to man.
Pentecostalism is not God-centred. For this reason,
it can attack God's Word (Scripture), disparage God's Saviour (Christ),
minimize God's way of salvation (faith), and ignore God's fundamental
blessing of salvation (justification). Basic to its being a gospel
according to man (Gal.
1:11) is an error which, although often overlooked, even in
criticisms of Pentecostalism, characterizes Pentecostalism wherever it
is found. This is the error of free will, i.e., the doctrine that
salvation depends upon the will of the sinner, rather than upon the
sovereign, gracious will of God (Rom.
9:16). The roots of Pentecostalism are not in Calvin, Dordt, and
Westminster, but in Arminius, Wesley, Finney, and revivalism.
This helps to explain both the popularity of
Pentecostalism and its ecumenicity. Pentecostalism is ecumenical. It is
obviously, admittedly, and aggressively ecumenical. It operates in all
churches, with total disregard for confessional and doctrinal
differences. It unites Protestants and Roman Catholics. All are made one
by Pentecostalism—those who practice idolatry in the mass, as well as
those whose confession is that this practice is accursed; those who
depend for righteousness upon their own merits, as well as those whose
confession is that we are to trust only in the alien righteousness of
Christ; those who boast of salvation by their own free will, as well as
those whose confession is that the "free will gospel" is the error of
Pelagius out of hell. So far from being abashed by their doctrinally
indifferent "Spirit", and then being roused to suspicion concerning a
"Spirit" thus disdainful of the truth, Pentecostal leaders herald their
religion as the means of church union. The ecumenical nature of
Pentecostalism was evident at the "1977 Conference on Charismatic
Renewal in the Christian Churches" held in Kansas City. The conference
was co-sponsored by Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Lutherans,
Mennonites, Messianic Jews, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and United
Methodists. Members from many other denominations participated.
One of the main speakers, the Episcopalian, Dennis
Bennett, said that "he sees three streams of Christianity that are
beginning to flow together: the Catholic stream with its emphasis on
history and the continuity of the faith, the evangelical stream with its
emphasis on loyalty to Scripture and the importance of personal
commitment to Christ, and the Pentecostal stream with its emphasis on
the immediate experience of God by the power of the Holy Spirit."
The keynote speaker, the Roman Catholic, Kevin
Ranaghan, "asserted that divisions among the various Christian churches
have been a 'serious scandal' in the world. 'For the world to believe
depends on our becoming one,' he said. It is the will of God, he
emphasized, 'that we be one."' He expressed his belief that there is a
"real possibility of moving together toward some lasting form of
Christian unity." (Cf. Christianity Today, August 12, 1977,
Because of its fundamental errors regarding the Word,
Christ, and faith; because of its pride; because of its false
ecumenicity—an ecumenicity apart from the truth; because of its
heretical doctrine of salvation—the teaching of Holy Spirit baptism; and
because of its fraudulent miracles, Pentecostalism must be rejected. It
must be rejected by Christian discipline. Here, some are weak. They know
the errors of Pentecostalism. They see it as radically different from
the faith of the Reformation. They even speak out in criticism of the
movement. But at the same time they speak of their "Pentecostal brothers
and sisters" and tolerate Pentecostalism in their churches.
The Pentecostal must be disciplined. He must be
disciplined for his own good, that God may give him repentance unto the
acknowledging of the truth. He must be disciplined for the church's
good, that the other members may learn to fear and that the leaven of
Pentecostalism may not spread through the church. For the Pentecostal
remains within the church, in order to gain adherents to his religion.
"I would they were even cut off which trouble you" (Gal.
5:12). "A man that is an heretic after the first and second
admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and
sinneth, being condemned of himself" (Titus
The Reformed View of the Christian Life
Does not Pentecostalism, despite its serious errors,
have something to contribute to the churches of the Reformation,
something, in fact, that these churches very much need? Should not
Reformed believers learn something from Pentecostalism, something that
they are otherwise quite ignorant of? Do not Reformed churches and their
members lack something which God Himself is now supplying through the
Pentecostal, or charismatic, movement? Having given His church the
former rain moderately, is not God now fulfilling Joel's prophecy of a
"latter rain" (Joel
This notion is widely accepted in Reformed circles.
That which Pentecostalism is supposed to contribute to the church and
the member is a vibrant Christian life. A Reformed church and a Reformed
saint have sound doctrine, it is said; but they are deficient in the
area of Christian life. To the congregation, Pentecostalism will
contribute a real unity of the members; a love that cares for, and
shares with, the other members; the energetic use of his gifts by every
member; and a spontaneous, lively, exuberant worship. To the individual
member, it will supply spiritual experience, joy, zeal, and power.
Reformed Christianity has the Word (doctrine); Pentecostalism will add
the Spirit. Thus, Pentecostalism is introduced, and welcomed, into
The notion is false. The Reformed church has always
sought the unity of the people of God; urged the mutual love of her
members; and done justice to the use of his gifts by every member. It
was not Pentecostalism that moved the Reformed church to confess the
communion of saints, in Q. 55 of her Heidelberg Catechism, in
First, that all and everyone, who believes, being
members of Christ, are in common, partakers of him, and of all his
riches and gifts; secondly, that every one must know it to be his
duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage
and salvation of other members.
Nor was it Pentecostalism that was responsible for
the Reformed church's charging her members to live the Christian life by
loving their neighbours as she does in Lord's Days 39-44 of this same
Catechism. Let Pentecostalism improve, if it can, on the Reformed
Faith's application of the Fifth Commandment to the believer as the
requirement that "I show all honour, love and fidelity, to my father and
mother, and all in authority over me ... and also patiently bear with
their weaknesses and infirmities ... "(Q. 104); of the Sixth
Commandment, as the requirement that we "love our neighbour as
ourselves ... show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness
towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies..."(Q. 107); of
the Seventh Commandment, as the teaching that "we must... live chastely
and temperately, whether in holy wedlock, or in single life" (Q. 108);
of the Eighth Commandment, as the requirement that "I promote the
advantage of my neighbour in every instance I can or may, and deal with
him as I desire to be dealt with by others" (Q. 111); and of the Ninth
Commandment, as the requirement that "I defend and promote, as much as I
am able, the honour and good character of my neighbour" (Q. 112).
To the Pentecostal's suggestion that we should go to
school at the feet of Pentecostalism, to learn about Christian
experience, Reformed Christians are inclined to respond as the LORD
answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel
by words without knowledge? Where wast thou when I laid the foundations
of the earth?" (Job
38:2, 4). Bypassing the glorious tradition of the Reformed,
Presbyterian, and Puritan preachers and writers, we invite those who
make this presumptuous suggestion to read the Heidelberg Catechism. For
over 400 years, Reformed Christians have been schooled in a catechism
that sets forth the entire message of Scripture from the viewpoint of
personal comfort; that defines this comfort as belonging to Christ; and
that grounds this comfort in an experiential knowledge of sin, an
experiential knowledge of redemption, and an experiential knowledge of
thankfulness. When they have finished with the Catechism, they may pick
up the Canons of Dordt, to observe the warm, pastoral treatment of the
great doctrines that are at once the distinctive truths of the Reformed
faith and the heart of the gospel of God's grace. Here, they will find
an exposition of predestination, e.g., that is deeply concerned with the
assurance of election (I:12); with the effects of the sense of election
in the daily humility, adoration, self-purification, and thankful love
of the children of God (I:13); and with the spiritual struggles and
doubts of those who are the "smoking flax" and "bruised reeds"
As genuine, biblical Christianity, the Reformed faith
has always also honoured the Holy Spirit and His work. It has confessed
His Godhead; it has observed His outpouring as the Spirit of Christ on
Pentecost; it has ascribed to Him the complete work of the gathering of
the church and the saving of every elect sinner, insomuch that it has
denied that even the smallest part of the gathering of the church or the
saving of the sinner is the work of man and has asserted that even the
Word is powerless without the Spirit. It has extolled the Spirit's
works, e.g., regeneration and sanctification; praised His gifts, e.g.,
faithful witness to the truth; and cultivated His fruit—the love, joy,
peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and
Galatians 5:22. For all this, the Reformed church owes
Pentecostalism exactly nothing.
The Reformed Christian does refuse to honour any
spirit alongside of Jesus Christ; does refuse to dabble in any salvation
additional to the redemption of Christ; does refuse to fly with any
spirit above the solid atmosphere of the Word of Christ—Holy Scripture;
and does refuse to confess some spirit instead of Jesus. But the Holy
Spirit of God does not take it ill of us, that we make this refusal. He
Himself demands it of us and works it in us. For He has come to glorify
16:14); to bestow Jesus' redemption (John
7:37-39); to work in and through Jesus' Word (John
6:63); and to confess Jesus Christ (I
Pentecostalism has nothing to contribute to the
churches of the Reformation. Reformed believers can learn nothing from
it. The Reformed faith needs nothing that Pentecostalism can supply.
Pentecostalism must be rejected, in its entirety, as a religion alien to
Reformed Christianity. In the bloodstream of a Reformed church, it is a
foreign element. If it remains, unpurged, it will be the death of that
body, as a Reformed body.
It is disturbing to find Pentecostal literature in
the homes of Reformed people, for use as edifying reading—Watchman Nee;
David Wilkerson; John Osteen; Arthur Wallis; The Full Gospel
Businessman's Voice; and others. Even though the material may not be
Pentecostal, the devotional reading—and listening!—of some Reformed
believers is to be faulted. The fare from which they regularly feed to
satisfy the soul's craving for exposition of the Christian life,
experience, and practice is the best selling literature of present-day
fundamentalism. At best, it is devoid of anything Reformed; at worst, it
undermines everything that Reformed believers hold dear, inculcating a
superficial, false view of the Christian life and experience. Where,
e.g., in the frothy works on the higher, richer, fuller, deeper
Christian life, with their flashy covers, that abound in the average
Christian book store, do you find anything of the "out of the depths
have I cried unto thee, O LORD" of
Psalm 130? Much less is this sorrow over the guilt of sin central to
their vaunted higher, richer, fuller, deeper Christian life. Theirs is a
higher, richer, fuller, deeper Christian life, therefore, whose
heartbeat is not the forgiveness of sins in the redemption of the cross
of Christ. The Christian life to which those books call the readers
cannot be a life of fearing the Lord, the holy, gracious Judge, by the
pardoned sinner (Psalm
130:4). Instead, they tell us how to be happy. Nor do they set forth
the Christian life as obedience—costly obedience—to the Ten Commandments
of God's Law. A plague on these books; and a plague on their higher,
richer, fuller, deeper Christian life!
It may well be, however, that some of the blame for
this bad reading lies at the feet of us preachers, elders, parents, and
Christian schoolteachers. Perhaps, we are not recommending to the saints
the good, solid devotional works—the sermons, commentaries, and other
writings of Luther; of Calvin; and of the older Reformed, Presbyterian,
and Puritan authors.
Perhaps, we are not producing books and articles that
do justice to the practical and experiential aspects of the Reformed
faith—its unique and vital piety. Perhaps, our preaching slights these
aspects of the gospel. Then, we defend orthodoxy, without applying it.
Or, in reaction to experientialism, we ignore experience; in reaction to
subjectivism, we dare not be subjective; in reaction to a clamour for the
practical that despises doctrine, we fail to speak the practical things
which become sound doctrine (Titus
2:1). In this case, there is indeed a lack, not in the Reformed
Faith, but in our teaching of it; and it should not surprise us, wrong
though it is, that the saints seek to satisfy their hunger elsewhere.
The fact that Pentecostalism has nothing to
contribute to the Reformed believer does not imply that God does not
make use of this movement on behalf of His people. God has always used
heresies to drive His church to the Word, so that her knowledge of the
truth may be increased and her faithfulness of life may be renewed. God
uses Pentecostalism to send us back to Holy Scripture, to search it as
regards its teaching concerning the Christian life.
The basic appeal of Pentecostalism is its criticism
of the Christian's life and its promise of a higher, richer Christian
life. Pentecostalism finds much laxity, unfaithfulness, worldliness, and
disobedience. We do well to confess this. God sends the scourge of
Pentecostalism for a reason. Many have lost the first love. The love of
others waxes cold. Iniquity abounds. For many, worship is lifeless
formalism; confession of the truth is a dead tradition; Christian life
is an external ritual; and the experience of salvation's peace and joy
is non-existent. Always, mysticism arises against the background of a
decline in the spiritual life of the church, especially a decline into
dead orthodoxy and lively worldliness. In these circumstances,
Pentecostalism seduces the people with the allure of real life, dynamic
power, and wonderful feeling.
In view of Pentecostalism's criticism of the life,
both of the faithful Reformed believer, who has not received
Pentecostalism's baptism with the Spirit, and of the lax, unfaithful
church member, and in view of its promise to transport the Christian
into a higher level of spiritual life and experience, we are compelled
to ask, "What is the Christian life and experience? What is the
normal, Christian life?"
In answering this question, we pay no attention to
the claims of religious men and woman. The norm of Christian life and
experience is not the neighbour's testimony of her latest ecstatic
feeling, but Holy Scripture. In this way, we let God be true, and every
man, a liar. The failure to let Scripture, the reliable Word of God, be
the standard of the Christian life, and the dependency upon the
thoroughly unreliable words of men, is the cause of no end of doubt,
whether one is what he ought to be spiritually, and even whether one is
a regenerated child of God at all. This gives Pentecostalism the opening
that it wants. For knowledge of the Christian life, the rule is: "To the
law and to the testimony," shunning the wizards that peep and mutter (Isaiah
According to Scripture, the Christian life is a life
that finds its fullness in Jesus Christ, as this Christ is revealed in
the Word. It will not go beyond Christ; it will have nothing apart from
Christ, or in addition to Christ—not circumcision, not new revelations,
not a higher knowledge, not some spirit. The reason is that the
Christian knows, and has found by experience, that Christ is a complete
Saviour. In Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and
the Christian is complete in Him, i.e., is filled up in Him (Col.
2:9-10). To be sure, the Christian life is a life of growth, but
that growth is a growing up into Christ, not a going beyond Christ:
"That we...may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even
Christ" (Eph. 4:14-15). Just as is the case with the physical
growth to maturity, this spiritual growth is a gradual, often
imperceptible, development, not an instantaneous, overnight
transformation. It is life-long. It takes place by the Word and prayer.
This sufficient Christ, with all His adequate
benefits, is the life of the believer by the indwelling of the Holy
Spirit in his heart. "I live," exults the believer, "yet not I, but
Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live
by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal.
2:20). The fervent prayer of the apostle for all of the members of
God's church is "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith" (Eph.
3:17). This takes place in every one of us by our being
"strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (v. 16).
The Christian life is a life of walking in the Spirit
of Christ Whom we all received when we were born again. The believer
does not look for, or seek, or tarry for a second baptism; rather, he
strives to walk in the Spirit daily, in all of life. This is the
instruction concerning the Christian life in
Galatians 5. There were problems in Galatia regarding the Christian
life, serious problems. There was the threat of the saints' biting and
devouring each other—a pathetic lack of love (vv. 13-15). There
were other temptations of the flesh and its lusts: adultery; idolatry;
drunkenness; and the like (vv. 19-21). There were evidences of vain
glory, of the provoking of one another, and of envying one another
(v. 26). These were problems for men and women who had been baptized (Gal.
3:27) and who had received the Holy Spirit (Gal.
3:2). But the solution was not that they seek a new baptism, or a
different administration of the Spirit. On the contrary, they must walk
in that Holy Spirit in Whom they lived: "This I say then, Walk in the
Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (v. 16); "If we
live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (v. 25).
The Christian life, it is thus pointed out, is
active. The activity of the Christian life is, first, a battle—a fierce,
unrelenting, life-long battle. The battleground is oneself. The foe is
sin. Pentecostalism knows nothing of this battle; the Pentecostal has
already won the victory in his baptism with the Spirit. Not only do you
hear little or nothing of the forgiveness of sins in Pentecostalism, but
you also hear little or nothing of the daily struggle of the saint
against indwelling sin. In fact, it is not unheard of that the
charismatic preacher ridicules those who are always groaning over their
sins, those, that is to say, whose testimony all their lives is, "O
wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this
7:24). Nothing more clearly than this exposes Pentecostalism as a
religion totally alien to the Reformed Faith. A Reformed Pentecostal is
an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. A Pentecostal cannot confess
the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism. At best, he can only say
that he used to know the misery of sin, both guilt and depravity.
Ignorant of his misery, neither can he know redemption or the living
gratitude that wells up daily in a forgiven heart.
Scripture, however, presents the Christian life as a
striving against indwelling sin. This is the teaching of
Galatians 5:17: "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the
Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other:
so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."
This is the powerful doctrine of
Romans 7. The Christian man, or woman, is carnal, sold under sin.
Paul himself, man of God and apostle of Christ, was carnal, sold under
sin. He found himself so, at the very end of his life, after he had been
sanctified by the Spirit and after his sanctification had progressed far
(v. 14). Paul was carnal, not because he was unregenerated, not because
Christ had not baptized him with the Holy Spirit and fire, not because
sin reigned in his life, not because Paul was a careless Christian; but
because even though he was born again, evil was present with him—he
retained his sinful, totally depraved flesh (v. 21). As a new man in
Christ and, we may safely suppose, as one of the holiest of saints, he
delighted in the law of God after the inward man (v. 22); had a hatred
of sin (v. 15); and possessed a will to do the good (v. 18). But such was
the power of sin in him as long as he lived, that "the good that I would
I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do" (v. 19). Therefore,
the apostle—and every Christian—knows his misery. He expresses it in the
anguished cry, "O wretched man that I am" (v. 24)—the echo in the New
Testament of the "Out of the depths" of
Psalm 130. Yet, he neither gives up in the spiritual battle, nor is
he ever without the solace of the Savior, Jesus Christ his Lord. Verse
23 insists on the warfare ("I see another law in my members, warring
against the law of my mind ..."); verses 24-25, on the comfort of Christ
("who shall deliver me ...? I thank God through Jesus Christ our
Not only is this warfare with sin the activity of the
Christian life as regards one's personal life, but it is also the
activity of Christian life in the family and in the congregation.
This is a painful, bitter struggle.
For this reason, the Christian can be enticed by the
sweet promise that suddenly the battle is over in this life. A pastor
can be tempted similarly by such a promise for the congregation. But
with the shield of Scripture, he can, and must, resist the temptation.
Do you find this bitter struggle against sin in
Do not despair!
Do not think that you are not saved or that you are
This is it: the normal Christian life!
The result is that we long ardently and wait, not for
a second work of grace, but for the second coming of Jesus Christ:
"Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly. " We hope eagerly, not for a baptism
with the Spirit, but for the resurrection of our bodies: ourselves also,
which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan
within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of
our body" (Rom.
Second, the activity of the Christian life is the
doing of good works. But it is not the production of spectacular deeds
and glamorous accomplishments, as the charismatics would have us
believe. Rather, it is the doing of unnoticed, insignificant works—works
that are of no account in the estimation of men. It is the activity of
sanctification of life, walking after the Spirit, not after the flesh:
not practicing adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife,
seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and
such like (Gal.
5:19-21); but living in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,
goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal.
It is the activity of the unnoticed works of keeping
the law of God: right worship of God; confessing the truth; remembering
the Sabbath; obeying parents; faithfulness in marriage; chastity in
single life; Godly rearing of children; diligent labour at one's earthly
vocation; payment to Caesar of his taxes; speaking well of one's
neighbour, especially the brother and sister in the congregation; and
contentment with one's lot, without coveting.
In short, the activity of the Christian life is
love—love of the Lord our God and love of the neighbour.
As you do this, do not blow a trumpet before your
piety; do it secretly, so that God will reward you.
This is possible by the indwelling Power of Almighty
God; but, even then, sin will defile our best works, so that there is
only a small beginning of the new obedience and constant need of pardon.
But does not the Christian life have its experience?
As an alternative or addition to faith, experience
must be renounced, root and branch. Jesus Christ does not call us to
experience, or to feel, but to believe. The way of salvation is faith,
not feeling; we are saved by faith, not by experience; we are saved by
faith alone, not by faith and experience.
Nevertheless, faith has its experience. It is
three-fold: God's child knows the greatness of his sin and misery, his
gracious redemption in Christ, and thankfulness for this redemption.
Do you have this experience? Then, you have the
normal Christian experience. This is all there is. Whoever lusts for
more is an ingrate and aggravates God. He says to God Who gives the
knowledge of Himself in His own Son (John
17:3), "But is there not something more, something better?"
To put it differently, through faith the Holy Spirit
gives the peace and joy that come from justification. "Therefore being
justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus
Christ ... and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1-2).
Since this is the Christian life, the Reformed
believer makes a confession that is radically different from that of the
Pentecostal. The Pentecostal is always boasting of his great powers and
is always rejoicing in his marvellous accomplishments. The Reformed saint
humbly confesses his weaknesses and takes pleasure in his infirmities,
in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for
Christ's sake. For he has learned to trust in Divine grace;
desires the power of Christ to rest upon him; and has heard God say, in
the gospel, "my strength is made perfect in weakness" (II
He will not glory in himself. To do so, is, to him,
abhorrent—a blasphemy. From the bottom of his sin-broken, but justified
heart comes the confession, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the
cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal.
This is the sound of the Dove.