A Reformed Look at Pentacostalism

Pentecostalism is proud. It is arrogant in its attitude towards the Church of the past. Until about 1900, there was no such thing as the Pent. baptism with the Spirit within the Church. Athanasius and Augustine did not have it; Luther and Calvin did not have it; the Reformed saints of the Netherlands who died by the scores of thousands under the Roman Catholic and Spanish persecution never had it. Says Pent. : “Up till now the Church has been a very poor and lifeless Church; the full gospel, the full salvation, and the full Christian life start with us.” 

Put all of Pent. and neo-Pent. on a pile, and the whole heap is not worthy to untie the shoelace of one Luther, or of one Calvin, or of one Reformed saint who believed the gospel of grace, feared the Lord and kept His commandments, brought up his family in the truth, and gave his life for his faith. 

Pent. is arrogant in its attitude towards the “mere” believer. The Pentecostal is the elite in the Church, the super-saint; all others are “merely” converted Christians. Hence, Pent. is schismatic; it causes division in the body of Christ. Elders are only fooling themselves when they tolerate Pent. within the congregation, but warn it to “keep the peace.” 

The explanation of this pride is that Pent. is man’s religion. It centers on man: how does man feel? how can man have power to do splendid things on the earth? It is not God-centered. Hence, the neglect of God’s Word; of God’s Christ; of God’s way of salvation, namely, faith. That Pent. is a man-centered religion is evident in its Arminian, free-willist theology. The roots of Pent. are not in Calvin, Dordt, and Westminster, but in Wesley, Finney, and revivalism. But this is another story. 

Pent. is ecumenical. It is obviously, admittedly, and aggressively ecumenical. It operates in all churches, with total disregard for doctrinal differences. It unites Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists,’ Presbyterians, Reformed, and what not more. Those who practice idolatry in the mass, as well as those whose confession is that that practice is accursed; those who depend for righteousness upon their own merits, as well as those whose confession is that we are to trust only in the alien righteousness of Christ; those who boast of salvation by their own free will, as well as those whose confession is that the free-will “gospel” is the error of Pelagius out of hell are made one by Pent. Pent. leaders herald their religion as a means of church union. 

The ecumenical nature of Pent. was evident at “the 1977 Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches” held this summer in Kansas City. The conference was co-sponsored by Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Messianic Jews, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and United Methodists. Members from many other denominations participated. One of the main speakers, the Episcopalian, Dennis Bennett, said that “he sees three streams of Christianity that are beginning to flow together: the Catholic stream with its emphasis on history and the continuity of the faith, the evangelical stream with its emphasis on loyalty to Scripture and the importance of personal commitment to Christ, and the Pentecostal stream with its emphasis on the immediate experience of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

The keynote speaker, the Roman Catholic, Kevin Ranaghan, “asserted that divisions among the various Christian churches have been a ‘serious scandal’ in the world. ‘For the world to believe depends on our becoming one,’ he said. It is the will of God, he emphasized, ‘that we be one.’ ” He expressed his belief that there is a “real possibility of moving together toward some lasting form of Christian unity.” (cf.Christianity Today, August 12, 1977, pp. 36, 37) 

Because of its fundamental errors regarding the Word, Christ, and faith; because of its pride; because of its false ecumenicity—an ecumenicity apart from the truth; because of its heretical soteriology—the doctrine of Holy Spirit baptism; and because of its fraudulent miracles, Pent. must be rejected, and it must be rejected by Christian discipline. Here, many are weak. They know the errors of Pent; they see it as radically different from the Reformed faith. But they speak of their “Pent. friends” and tolerate Pent. in the life-stream of their church. 

The Pent. must be disciplined. He must be disciplined for his own good, that God may thus give him repentance unto the acknowledging of the truth. He must be disciplined for the church’s good. The other members must learn to fear. For the Pent. means to stay within the church, so that he may gain adherents to his religion. “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself’ (Titus 3:10, 11). 

The Reformed View of the Christian Life

But can we not learn something from Pent.? Does it not have something positive to contribute to Reformed believers? Pent. has nothing whatever to contribute to us. We can learn nothing from this movement. I am troubled to find Pent. literature in the homes of Reformed people for use as devotional reading: The Full Gospel Businessman’s Voice; the David Wilkerson writings; the Watchman Nee books; and the like. Even though the material may not be Pent., the devotional reading—and listening!—of some Reformed believers is to be faulted. The fare from which they regularly feed to satisfy the soul’s craving for exposition of the Christian life, experience, and practice is the best selling (paperback) literature of present day Arminian fundamentalism. At best, it is devoid of anything Reformed; at worst, it undermines everything that Reformed believers hold dear, inculcating a superficial, false view of the Christian life and experience. Where, for example, in the frothy works on the higher, richer, fuller, deeper Christian life, with their flashy covers, that abound in the average Christian bookstore do you find anything of the “out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord” of Psalm 130? Much less is this agony over the guilt of sin central to their vaunted higher, richer, fuller, deeper Christian life. Theirs is a higher, richer, fuller deeper Christian life, therefore, whose heartbeat is not the forgiveness of sins in the redemption of the cross of Christ. Nor does it consist of the fear of Jehovah, this gracious Judge. A plague on these books, and a plague on their higher, richer, fuller, deeper Christian life! 

It may be that part of the blame for this bad reading lies with us preachers, elders, parents, and schoolteachers. Perhaps, we do not point the Reformed saints to the books that will afford good, solid, devotional reading: many of the writings, especially the commentaries and sermons, of Luther and Calvin; many fine books by the old Presbyterians and Puritans published by The Banner of Truth Trust, e.g., The Valley of Vision (A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions) and The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson; certain of the devotional and practical works of Abraham Kuyper, e.g., When Thou Sittest in Thine House, a book consisting of meditations on home life; the published sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, e.g.,Studies in the Sermon on the Mount; and such publications of the Reformed Free Publishing Association as Herman Hoeksema’s forthcomingWhen I Survey (sermons on the passion of Christ) and Herman Hanko’s Mysteries of the Kingdom (a study of the parables), as well as those sections of Herman Hoeksema’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism that treat the ten commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. 

Perhaps, we are not producing material on the distinctively Reformed (Biblical) life, practice, and experience, as we should. The Standard Bearer could do more in the way of a positive development of these aspects of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. 

It goes without saying that the main course in the Reformed diet must be Scripture itself, especially the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the “practical” parts of the epistles. 

That Pent. has nothing to contribute to the Reformed believer does not imply that. God does not make use of this movement on behalf of His people. God has always used heresies to drive His Church to the Word, so that her knowledge of the truth may be increased and her faithfulness of life may be renewed. God uses Pent. to send us back to Holy Scripture to search it as regards its teaching concerning the Christian life. 

The basic appeal of Pent. is its criticism of the Christian’s life and its promise of a higher, richer Christian life; it will give power and joy. Pent. finds much laxity, unfaithfulness, and disobedience. We do well to confess this. God sends this scourge upon the churches for a reason. Many have lost the first love. The love of many waxes cold. Iniquity abounds. For many, worship is lifeless formalism; confession of the truth is a dead tradition; Christian life is an external ritual; and the experience of salvation’s peace and joy is non-existent. Always, mysticism arises against the background of a decline in the spiritual life of the Church, especially a decline into dead orthodoxy. Thus, Pent. seduces the people with the allure of real life, dynamic power, and wonderful feeling. 

So, we ask: What is the Christian life and experience? What is “the normal Christian life?”