The Rise of Reformed Charismatics

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The rollicking worship pulsed for nearly an hour in the humid Sanctuary: energetic singing, hundreds of hands raised, prophetic words referencing the Spirit’s flames, and sparks of spontaneous prayer among strangers from different states and nations.

When the worship ended, the crowd sat down, opened their English Standard Version Bibles and settled in for a 35-minute expository sermon on Galatians from King’s Church London teaching pastor Andrew Wilson, who brought a different kind of fire.

Each night of the Advance church planting network’s global conference featured this sort of hybrid—doctrinally rich, gospel-focused, Reformed preaching sandwiched between free-flowing charismatic worship—a combination that would make many a Presbyterian (and a few Pentecostals) squirm.

But for the crowd gathered at Covenant Life Church in suburban Washington, DC, including pastors from Kenya, Nepal, Australia, and Thailand, it flowed as naturally as it does in their own Reformed charismatic churches—more than 70 of them across the globe.

Advance is hardly the only group in the middle of this theological Venn diagram, with growing numbers of theologically savvy, Spirit-filled followers in the United States, Britain, and around the world. Five hundred years after the Reformation, Luther’s 21st-century inheritors are embracing the Holy Spirit in new and deeper ways.

Newfrontiers, a network of global “apostolic spheres,” has planted hundreds of churches over the last 30 years, many of which fit the Reformed charismatic mold. The movement’s founder, Terry Virgo, a British pastor, serves as a sort of elder statesman of Calvinist continuationists and authored the book The Spirit-Filled Church.

Acts 29, the Reformed church-planting network, has also begun to showcase its charismatic side, holding a conference in London around the theme “Reformed & Revived.”

Matt Chandler, Acts 29 president and lead teaching pastor of the Dallas-area Village Church, has identified himself as Reformed charismatic. He believes the charismatic gifts are still active and should be pursued, a position somewhat uncommon among Southern Baptists.

Frontline Church, an Acts 29 congregation that has expanded to four locations in the Oklahoma City area over the last decade, combines structured liturgy (creeds, the Lord’s Table) with “planned spontaneity,” including small groups of prayer during communion, where congregants pray for each other’s healing and offer prophetic words to one another (e.g., “I believe the Lord wants to say to you . . . ”).

Lead pastor Josh Kouri thinks the church’s unique Reformed charismatic focus, “100 percent committed to both Word and Spirit,” is part of its appeal.

“Some people show up on a Sunday morning and don’t know where to peg us, but I think that is actually to our benefit,” he said. “It’s stretching, but it also feels safe to people. I think that commitment to hold in tension things we typically try to resolve . . . that’s been a big part of the unique story of our church.”

Wilson (also a CT columnist), Chandler, and Kouri, along with pastors Sam Storms (author of The Beginner’s Guide to the Spiritual Gifts) and Francis Chan, spoke in October at the Convergence Conference in Oklahoma City, an inaugural event focused on Word and Spirit.

Reformation and Revival

Historically, evangelicals of the Reformed and charismatic camps have been on separate ends of a spectrum, suspicious of one another’s views on the role of the Spirit’s miraculous gifts (e.g., the nine listed in 1 Cor. 12:7–10) for today’s churches.

The Reformed tradition has tended to be cessationist, either denying or avoiding the continued practice of charismatic gifts like healing, tongues, and prophecy, believing they were only for the foundational era of the church. Charismatics, on the other hand, are continuationists, believing these gifts are still available and valuable.

Cessationists, like Reformed heavyweight John MacArthur, accuse charismatics of being light on biblical truth, often elevating spiritual experience above sound doctrine. As he writes in his 2013 book Strange Fire, MacArthur believes “Charismatics downplay doctrine for the same reason they demean the Bible: they think any concern for timeless objective truth stifles the work of the Spirit.”

Continuationists like Chan believe many evangelical churches neglect the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (the subject of his 2009 book Forgotten God) and, out of fear of abuses or unwieldy emotionalism, come close to what Paul warns against in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–20: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.”

But in this historic divide, which has tended to pit knowledge of the Word against the experience of the Spirit, is there a third way? Francis Schaeffer thought so. In his 1974 essay, “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way,” he wrote:

Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion.

But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian’s life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit.

The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is incomplete without revival.

The Head and the Heart

Four decades after Schaeffer’s essay, church planter Dihan Lee saw the restoration the theologian called for, first in his own life and then at his church, Renew Church LA.

It started in a living room with 15 people. About two years later, the congregation leans on the Spirit and the Word to draw a diverse crowd of more than 400 to weekly services.

“We are card-carrying Gospel Coalition people,” Lee said. “We’re big fans of Piper and Keller. I’m a five-point Calvinist. And yet we are also people who engage with Bethel and IHOP, and I love Sam Storms. I don’t see a discrepancy between being a covenantal Reformed guy who loves theology and pursuing all of what the Holy Spirit wants for the church.”

As a pastor, Lee doesn’t label his preaching Reformed, but it’s in his skeleton if not on his sleeve. He preaches God’s sovereignty, covenants, and election, but also the prophetic, the gifts, and spiritual warfare.

“It’s a balance that people find refreshing, where you can have good theology but also freedom in the Holy Spirit,” said Lee, who found his charismatic breakthrough at a Christian Healing Ministries conference in Florida after a season of ministry burnout.

Like many Korean Americans, Lee grew up Presbyterian, Reformed, and cessationist, even if he didn’t use those terms at the time. His movement in the Reformed charismatic direction began at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under Wayne Grudem, who hosted healing sessions in class and “taught charismatic Reformed theology in a way that was very convincing,” Lee said.

At the Florida conference, he ultimately found profound healing, deep repentance, visions, and prophecy that “gave life to my theology,” he said. “It opened doors from my head to my heart in ways I’d never experienced before.”

Lee doesn’t think today’s culture is impressed by orthodoxy alone.

“So you’ve got the corner on orthodox faith. Great. Show me how that’s going to heal my marriage. Show me how that’s going to remove depression and shame out of my life,” he said. “To engage with a broken city, orthodoxy alone doesn’t cut it. You also need power.”

Wood and Fire

Just across town from Renew Church LA, Vintage Church, an Anglican congregation in Santa Monica, merged with a Baptist church two years ago. Now, its services blend the expected liturgical elements—prayers of the people, passing the peace, sermon, Communion—with extended periods of contemporary worship.

Lead pastor Ger Jones refers to the front rows as the “Holy Spirit splash zone,” where worshipers display livelier expressions and sometimes share prophetic words with the congregation during the service.

Jones sees the interplay of Word and Spirit in terms of wood and fire. The Word is the wood, which is necessary to start a fire, “but without the spark of the Spirit, it is just dry wood,” he said.

“A good fire needs good wood,” said Jones, but sometimes charismatics try to have fire experiences without good wood, without the sort of meaty, doctrinal teaching that grounds the weekly message at Vintage.

“It’s like kindling catching on fire, so it doesn’t last long,” he said. “It’s connected to a moment but not sustained. It’s event-based.”

Unlike most churches, where the singing is prior to preaching as a sort of theological tee up, Vintage offers a longer worship set after the sermon, “giving space to the Spirit to set the preached Word on fire.”

Extended periods of worship and openness to spontaneity are hallmarks of Reformed charismatic churches, but they can create discomfort for congregants and worship musicians who are more used to structure and predictability.

“Seeing how the Spirit is moving during a service is still a little disorienting as I can look out into the congregation and see some people really responding to the spontaneity and others upset because there are no words on the screen for them to follow,” said Katie Hendrickson, who sings and plays keys during worship at Southlands church in Brea, California, which is a member of the Advance Movement (and this writer’s home church).

She has come to see the Reformed charismatic worship of Southlands as “a beautiful blend of allowing the Word to formulate your response to God while also allowing the Holy Spirit to speak.”

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Source: Christianity Today