Reformed Charismatic or Charismatic Calvinist. They are terms you would expect to see on a list that includes “criminal justice” and “minor disaster.” You can almost hear the start of a joke, “a Calvinist and a Charismatic walk into a bar…..”
Is it possible the phrase isn’t the oxymoron many think it to be, but rather the synthesis of two dramatically different theologies finding common ground?
The possibility is gaining traction of late after messages by many pastors nationwide who admit they identify with the term.
One is Matt Chandler of the Village Church. In a message delivered earlier this month, he told his congregation that he often feels like a theological orphan. His anxiety is understandable. One group desires liturgy, order and consistency. The other revels in spontaneity, Holy Spirit manifestation, and experience. How can they possibly co-exist?
Many have tried and although the term is rare there is a history of Calvinists and Charismatics looking for a third way.
Dale M. Coulter, writing a First Things article in 2014 titled “A Charismatic Invasion of Anglicanism?”, traced the roots of a relationship all the way back to 1907 when a pentecostal preacher was invited to speak at All Saints Church in Sunderland. All Saints became the epicenter of early Pentecostalism in England.
In 2011, Sam Hamstra, pastor at Living Hope Church in Palos Heights, Illinois developed five points that describe a Reformed Charismatic.
- As a Reformed Christian, I affirm the sovereignty of God the Spirit and believe that the Holy Spirit may work as the Spirit desire and may do so in ways well beyond my comprehension. Hence, I can’t limit the Spirit by putting the Spirit in a box, nor can I develop a foolproof scheme to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
- As Reformed Charismatic, I acknowledge that I am a sinning saint who, as a sinner, loves to control the way God works. For that reason I tend to limit the work of the Holy Spirit to ways that fit within my scheme. Hence, I admit that the Holy Spirit I worship is often an idol that I have shaped with my own hands, heart, and mind.
- As a Reformed Charismatic, I believe that regeneration precedes faith and that when we receive the Holy Spirit we receive all of the Spirit. Still, I acknowledge that there is an ebb and flow to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. At times I hinder the Spirit; at times I long to be filled with the Spirit; at times I experience that filling.
- As a Reformed Charismatic, I believe that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life represents God’s grace and, hence, I relish the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, I am helpless in my attempts to follow the Lord. Without the Spirit, I can’t even hold on to my faith. For those reasons and more, I long to experience the fullness of the Spirit in both my life and in that of my congregation.
- And here is perhaps the most distinctive conviction I hold as a Reformed Charismatic: I am a sinning saint who still wrestles with sin. Hence, I don’t trust the voice within me. Here’s my dilemma. I hear many Christians say things like “Last night, while I was out for a walk, the Lord spoke to me and told me I should ….” My response to that is “How do you know it was the Lord speaking to you?” How can you be so convinced that it was NOT your pride speaking to you? How do you know that you are not simply telling yourself what you want to hear?
IN SEARCH OF A THIRD WAY
Chandler represents the latest attempt to find a third way. In his sermon he recalled an experience he had while in college that he described as “crazy.’ He said a man he had never seen before walked up to him after a bible study. That man grabbed the sides of Chandler’s head and blew in his face.
“You probably think I’m insane,” the man said to a stunned Chandler, “but I am here, I have been sent here, I think, for you, and God has asked me to come here and blow on you and maybe that will make sense to you one day, and maybe it won’t. That’s all.”
The man then vanished.
Chandler told his congregation, “But here’s what I will tell you: From that day forward the effectiveness of my ministry, the power of my preaching, and the response to my preaching increased in a way that is hard to communicate.”
OBSTACLES TO THE MOVEMENT
There are detractors. Some Charismatics say any attempt to constrain the Holy Spirit through liturgy or in the belief that certain spiritual gifts ended at Pentecost denies the power and working of the Holy Spirit.
Some Calvinists fear the connection might lead to theological error. Well-known Calvinist R.C. Sproul, who himself had a charismatic experience in an effort to be more like his charismatic friends who had an ardor for prayer that he did not, left the pursuit out of fear that it too often leads to false doctrine.
Despite the concerns and warnings, Chandler hopes a third way is found because he says Christians needs both, a faith rooted in Scripture and an experience of God’s power in their lives.