Quick Thoughts on the New ‘Prophetic Standards’
A group of Pentecostal and charismatic leaders put out guidelines on how the gift of prophecy should be handled, motivated in large part by the movement’s terribly haphazard response to the Trump presidency. Christianity Today has an excellent article explaining the background.
There’s much to commend about the statement: it subordinates prophecy to scripture in authority, affirms that prophecy is redemptive and fundamentally about Jesus in nature, that prophets should be in submission to the church and councils of elders in the exercise of this gift, and that prophets are only qualified in the exercise of the gift if they have godly character. These are all excellent standards and Pentecostals and their churches will be much, much better for it if they are followed.
But I’m not optimistic. Believing that prophecy is new revelation from God in addition to scripture inherently invites competition with scripture, even if the content of the prophecy does not prima facei contradict the Bible…
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…