Westminsterian Theology and Charismatic Practice
Through its 1986 position paper on the Holy Spirit, the EPC affirms that the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament are valid for the church today. The EPC is self-consciously charismatic, though expressly not Pentecostal. Along with the ordination of women, the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the other issue the EPC points to as a “non-essential” where there can be disagreement among its churches. Yet, even in the position paper there are limitations placed on what the EPC teaches to be valid expressions of spiritual gifts. It holds that the new birth of Christians and baptism of the Holy Spirit are the same thing (thus ruling out baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace) and that the manifestation of specific spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues, is unnecessary for salvation. In short, there are boundaries on the view and practice of charismatic gifts in the EPC.
Beyond the explicit statements in the position paper, the Westminster Confession (WCF) and Catechisms also speak to the subject. While the modern charismatic movement has its origins in the early 20th century, the Reformers addressed many of the same topics as they encountered them in Roman Catholicism and the mystic evangelicalism of their day. Calvin’s Institutes famously begins by contrasting the false miracles of Rome with the sufficiency of scripture. The Westminster Standards have much to say on the subject of charismatic gifts, and though they are most compatible with a cessationist view on the miraculous gifts, there is a degree of freedom for charismatic expression. My intent is not to evaluate exegetical arguments or to provide historical criticism, but to examine the ways that the Westminster Standards bound the view and practice of charismatic gifts in the EPC…
Modeling Revelation 7:9
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”
How is Revelation 7:9-10 fulfilled? By the consummation of all things, when Christ returns and gathers his people into one congregation. By the worship of the church now, because Christ has already raised all his people together with him before the Father as one worshiping congregation.
Revelation 7:9-10 is fulfilled, now, and will be fulfilled later, because Christ has accomplished salvation. Revelation 7:9-10 is not accomplished by local congregations embodying any kind of demographic diversity, any more than it is fulfilled by wearing white robes or holding onto palm branches. Local congregations participate in the fulfillment of Revelation 7:9-10 by being faithful to our savior, through joining our voices together in worship with the heavenly, spiritual, and eschatological congregation. How is Revelation 7:9 modeled by the local church? By faithfulness to our confession of praise to our God and Lamb.