A little while back, I told some fellow bloggers here that I didn’ t think charismatic gifts (the traditional 1 Corinthians list) and traditional Reformed theology were compatible. Though you could write a book on this topic, I do want to address some the issues I believe make them difficult to reconcile. As always, you’re free to disagree and comment. Please know that I am writing this assuming a basic understanding of both topics at hand. I won’t be stopping for definitions and the like. I’ll handle the issues in this order: 1) allegorization of miracles, 2) the Isaiah gift list, 3) confining spiritual gifts to conversion, and 4) modern expressions of these issues.
1) allegorization of miracles: Even though the gifts of the Spirit were still common during the postbiblical period (even by “scaffolding model” timelines), clergy began to substitute allegorical interpretations for actual miraculous events and charismata. The need for miracles and spiritual gifts began to be seen as an elementary approach to Christianity, similar to the way the Alexandrian school taught that literal interpretation of scripture was beneath a mature believer. Rather, God’s acts of creation and the ”healing” of the soul (conversion) became the true miracles of the church. Augustine, in his Homilies on the Gospel of John, stated, “The Samaritans had waited for no sign, they believed simply His word.” Emphasizing faith that does not require miracles, he stated that mature Christians have “believed on Christ through the gospel; we have seen no signs, none do we demand.” Earlier, disgusted with commoners’ use of amulets to cure disease, Augustine stated that we should “rejoice” when someone is sick “tossed about with fever and pains” in hopes that the gospel “placed at the heart” will “heal it from sin.” Sin was the most urgent “disease” facing humanity. The Reformers picked this line of reasoning up.
2) Substitution of the Christological gifts of Isaiah 11 for the 1 Corinthians 12 list: Around the same time, clergy began to teach regularly on the gifts in Isaiah 11:2-3. The Isaiah list (wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord) became the standard gift “list” associated with the Christian walk. Though it is difficult to speculate exactly why these gifts were chosen over the 1 Corinthians list, some reasons do come to mind. For one, the Isaiah list prophetically describes the giftings of Christ. The church at this time was highly involved in defining Christology against heretical movements and the Isaiah gifts reflected that concern. Secondly, the gifts in Isaiah had less of a supernatural element to them. Wisdom, for example, has a more natural element to it than say, tongues. Counsel could be gained through interaction with creation – the Augustinian vehicle for God’s self-revelation – as opposed to prophecy which required direct revelation and inner experience. Third, the 1 Corinthians gifts appealed to the direct experience of the individual believer – something most ecclesiastical authorities believed was dangerous, particularly after the Montanism “scare.”
The Isaiah list didn’t replace the 1 Corinthians list overnight. Beginning with the Alexandrian school, spiritual gifts were adapted to accommodate theological beliefs. Origen cited language, wisdom, and knowledge as gifts only available to “worthy receivers.” Ambrose, describing the sacrament of confirmation, emphasized the reception of the “sevenfold gift” – listing the traits of Christ in Isaiah 11. Augustine followed suit. Gregory the Great made this substitution permanent. In his famous Pastoral Rule, Gregory wrote a tremendous amount about love and self-control but steered away from any recognition of the power gifts listed in 1 Corinthians. In his commentary on Job, Gregory explained that the seven gifts act as armor against spiritual attack and other evils. In a homily on Pentecost, Gregory specifically addressed the gifts in 1 Corinthians, but in the postbiblical age, he stated they are considered the gift of the clergy alone. Parishioners would do better to focus on the seven gifts that promote fruitful Christian living rather than power gifts that could possibly lead to pride.
We find the consummation of the allegorical and sevenfold gift traditions in the Reformed tradition. Luther’s German translation of the hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, while referencing the seven gifts, allegorically interprets the gift of tongues as preaching: “You are with sevenfold gifts/The finger of God’s right hand/You deliver the Father’s Word speedily/With tongues into all the lands.” These ideas are still reflected in Reformed theology today.
3) Confining spiritual gifts to conversion: By the time of the Reformation, Christian mysticism had developed into several different strands. The mystical treatises previous to Luther’s time always emphasized the availability of God’s presence in a post-conversion state, similar to the doctrines of sanctification and the baptism in the Holy Spirit of the Holiness and Pentecostal traditions. But Luther consciously rejected these mystics and chose to draw from the work of John Tauler and the anonymous Theologia Germanica instead. Both of these works (and subsequently Luther) taught that all the gifts you need you receive at conversion alone. There is no post-conversion experience and the gifts these works cite are the Isaiah list passed down through Scholasticism. This is really the first place that the idea of “one baptism, many fillings” shows up in Christian history. Any experience a believer can have originates strictly at the salvation moment. There is no baptism in the Holy Spirit other than what the Holy Spirit does to enforce the saving work of Christ.
Because of all of this, Luther’s commentaries pass over most passages that describe Jesus’ healings in the gospels. Miracles have passed away and “no new and special revelation or miracle is necessary” since an “immeasurably greater and more glorious work and miracle” is found in salvation. Tongues is no longer given since the church speaks all languages and only “fanatical spirits and sectarians” would seek such a gift. Luther, like Gregory before him, attaches merit to not seeking spiritual gifts since “nobody should presume to exercise it if it is not necessary or required.” The inference here is that since God determines all detailed events in life by his sovereignty, the need for signs and wonders should never arise. A miracle would contradict the natural order and ultimately contradict God’s predetermined will.
Calvin towed the line, stating that healing “had its beginning from the Apostles, which afterwards, however, was turned into superstition, as the world almost always degenerates into corruptions.” His cessation sentiments are similar to those before him: “[The possibility of spiritual gifts] either does not exist today or is less commonly seen.” Counterfeit miracles are determined by their association with wrong doctrine rather than their supernatural nature. For Calvin, the more charismatic gifts of 1 Corinthians have mutated into more permanent gifts of the intellect – tongues is seen as the ability to preach in a foreign language and the gift of discernment is the ability to rationally determine false doctrine. That sounds alot like the Reformed tendencies of today to me.
4) Modern expressions of these issues: Charismatics maintained a distinct post-conversion experience until the rise of the The Third Wave movement in Pentecostalism. Beginning in the 1980s with its influence continuing well into the 1990s, the basic premise of Third Wave groups is to embrace the move of the Holy Spirit, particularly the aspects of healing, deliverance, intimacy of worship, and spiritual warfare without disrupting the general church structures or denominations of which they are apart. The phrase was coined by C. Peter Wagner, who spearheaded the doctrinal emphasis of the movement. On a practical level, however, John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement were the driving force behind the Third Wave phenomenon. Wimber, once an associate of Chuck Smith, would eventually separate from Calvary Chapel due to his emphasis on spiritual gifts while choosing to retain a Reformed approach to doctrinal issues. Similarly, Wagner cites a Reformed-based approach to spiritual gifts in describing Third Wave doctrine. This is particularly evident in the Third Wave belief that the baptism in the Holy Spirit only occurs at conversion with multiple fillings that may resemble what Pentecostals would normally consider a second experience. Once again, “one baptism, many fillings” is directly imported from the Reformed tradition. Also, common the Third Wavers is the absence of the gift of tongues. Though the Third Wave movement made some charismatic manifestations acceptable in mainline denominations, it aggressively minimized the distinctive phenomena that had characterized the Pentecostal movement since its inception. Following its Reformed roots, the Third Wave essentially made Pentecostalism non-Pentecostal.
Many theologians, although accepting limited roles of experience, reject a secondary post conversion event. James Dunn, Max Turner, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen restrict forms of Spirit baptism to the conversion experience. Yet, they still talk about how “charismatic” they are. Unfortunately, even some Pentecostal theologians have gone along with the crowd. Assemblies of God theologian Gordon Fee followed the Reformed tendency to see sanctification as merely a “metaphor for conversion.” To me, that’s just sad. So even though charismatic manifestations are now acceptable, all historical attempts to integrate spiritual gifts into Reformed theology have consistently resulted in the diluting of spiritual gifts. Reformed attempts to integrate spiritual gifts leave charismatic Christianity a mile wide and an inch deep. History proves this to be true. And though it’s not the popular opinion, I just can’t accept that. I can’t help but feel that Christian spirituality is meant to be deep and event-laden. To minimize the charismata is remove one of the main points of intimacy between us and God. Though others see the gifts as expendable, I’ll take them every time. Can spiritual gifts and Reformed theology co-exist? If historical precedent is any indication, the answer is no.