A Reformed Look at Pentecostalism

In two previous articles (April 1 and May 1 issues of the Standard Bearer), we examined the Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit and began to examine the related Pentecostal doctrine of the extraordinary gifts, the “charismata.” It was readily acknowledged that Scripture teaches that there were extraordinary gifts—the miraculous—in the time of the apostles, including the gift of speaking in tongues. We will now consider Pentecostalism’s appeal to Scripture in support of its teaching and practice of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. The answer of the Reformed faith to this appeal will be given. It will be shown from Scripture itself why miracles were found in the days of the apostles, but are lacking today. 

Pent.’s argument for miracles today is simple: Scripture teaches that the miraculous was part of the life and ministry of the Church during the time of the apostles; therefore, the gift of performing miracles should be found in the Church today. 

Ignored by Pent. is Scripture’s teaching that miracles were “signs of an apostle.” The power of doing miracles was attached to the apostolic office and had as its purpose the authenticating of the apostles as special servants of Christ and the confirming of their doctrine as the gospel of God. This does not imply that only the apostles could perform miracles; in fact, other saints also possessed the gift of the working of miracles. But it does mean that the miraculous was apostolic: it derived from the apostolic office present in the Church at that time, and it served to attest the apostles and their doctrine. Miracles were the credentials of the apostles. 

The necessity of miracles during the apostolic age is to be found in the unique labor of the apostles. They laid the foundation of the New Testament Church of Christ. So Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20: the Gentile believers, with the Christians from Israel, “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” The apostles are the foundation of the Church, even as Christ is “the chief corner stone.” They are the foundation by virtue of the Word which they proclaim and write. Similarly, in I Corinthians 3:10, Paul claims to have laid the foundation of the Church at Corinth, whereas others then build upon this foundation: “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon . . .” 

That miracles, including the miracle of tongues, were part of the apostolic office is taught in II Corinthians 12:12: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” Paul is defending his apostleship in view of the attack on that apostleship at Corinth. He laments, in verse 11, that he was not commended of the Corinthians, even though “in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles.” The Corinthians should have recognized and honored Paul’s apostleship, for Christ gave clear proof of it in the miracles that He worked through Paul. Miracles are described as signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. They are called “signs of an apostle:” Literally, we read: “the signs of the apostle.” Miracles indicate the presence and power of apostleship. They belong to the apostolic office. 

Hebrews 2:3, 4 also connect the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit with the apostolic office. The first three verses of the chapter are a warning against neglecting the “so great salvation.” One does this by refusing to give earnest heed to the Word of God. For we have this salvation through the Word. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?” The great salvation isspoken; we have it by hearing. The passage establishes the primacy of the preaching of the Word as the means of salvation. Even in the apostolic age, not miracles, not extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, but the proclamation of the Word was the main thing. Miracles were secondary; they were strictly subservient to the apostolic doctrine. 

The passage also teaches that miracles belonged to the apostolic office and ministry. The author has said that the New Testament saints, the Hebrew Christians in particular, have the Word of God that brings them salvation. They must give heed to this Word, and they must not let it slip. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” How do we come to have the Word of God? It was first spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. Then it was confirmed unto us by “them that heard Him.” These are the apostles. Concerning these apostles, verse 4 states: “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.” 

The reference is to miracles, described, as in II Corinthians 12:12, as “signs and wonders and . . . miracles (the same word as that translated ‘mighty deeds’ in II Corinthians 12:12 —DE).” Strikingly, this passage also speaks of “gifts of the Holy Ghost.” The word, “gifts,” could better be translated as ‘distributions’ (of the Holy Ghost). These are the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit found in the Church at the time of the apostles. Among them were the gift of “kinds of tongues” and the gift of “the interpretation of tongues,” as I Corinthians 12:10 shows.

Miracles and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were God’s witness to those who heard Christ, i.e., the apostles. The purpose of this witness was the apostles’ confirming of Christ’s Word to us, i.e., to attest the apostolic doctrine as the very Word of God. Miracles and the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are not for all times, but were for the apostolic age; they were attached by the Divine will to the office of the apostle in order that they might confirm the Word which the apostles brought. 

That the function of the miraculous was the confirmation of the apostolic gospel is taught in Mark 16:20: “And they (the apostles, to whom the risen Christ had given the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel—DE) went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” The signs, or miracles, were the Lord’s powerful confirmation of the Word preached by the apostles. Acts 14:3 ascribes the same significance to the miracles of Paul and Barnabas: “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” 

The apostolic office was not a permanent office in the Church, but a temporary one. The qualifications of an apostle show this. An apostle had to be called and commissioned by the risen Lord directly, which included that he received the gospel from Jesus Himself. In addition, he was required to have seen the risen Jesus, so that he could preach a resurrection of which he had himself been an eye-witness (cf. I Cor. 9:1). 

The specific task of the apostle also indicates the temporary nature of the office. This task was the laying of the foundation of the Church. One does not forever lay the foundation of a building. There comes a time when the foundation is laid. Then those whose work is foundation-laying are removed; and others, pastors and teachers, whose calling it is to build on the foundation, are given to the Church. 

But if the office of apostle disappeared, so also must the miraculous have disappeared, “the signs of an apostle,” for the miraculous was part of that office and served that ministry. 

By the same token, those who insist on miracles today must produce apostles also. Let the Pentecostals put forward their apostles! It is noteworthy that the Irvingite movement (a precursor of Pent. In England in the 1800’s, named after its leader, Edward Irving) appointed twelve apostles. In so doing, the movement was, at least, consistent. 

Church history witnesses to the truth of Scripture’s teaching that miracles and extraordinary gifts were temporary. Miracles ceased in the Church about A.D. 100, roughly the time of the death of the last apostle. For a time after this, only the heretical and schismatic sects claimed the power of doing miracles, e.g., the Montanists (a second century sect named after its leader, Montanus). As time passed, the power of doing miracles began again to be claimed and stressed within the catholic church; but, significantly, this went hand in hand with the church’s departure from the truth of the gospel. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, has always claimed the power of performing miracles and has always bewitched her people with these wonders. 

The purified Church of the Reformation expressly disavowed all miracles. The Reformation was confronted with miracles on two fronts: Rome and the anabaptist groups with their mystical “religion of the Spirit.” Both Rome and the Mystics appealed to their miracles as proof that they were the true religion and taunted the Reformation with its lack of miracles. Intuitively striking to the very heart of the issue—and this is the heart of the issue also today as regards Pent., Luther called the faithful to believe, live by, and stick to the bare Word of God, even though heretics were producing a veritable snowstorm of miracles in order to seduce them from the truth.

Calvin gave a more detailed explanation of the Reformed position: “In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the apostles ever wrought. But they have a peculiarity which we have not—They can confirm their faith by constant miracles down to the present day! Nay rather, they allege miracles which might produce wavering in minds otherwise well disposed; they are so frivolous and ridiculous, so vain and false. But were they even exceedingly wonderful, they could have no effect against the truth of God, whose name ought to be hallowed always, and everywhere, whether by miracles, or by the natural course of events. The deception would perhaps be more specious if Scripture did not admonish us of the legitimate end and use of miracles. Mark tells us

Mark 16:20

that the signs which followed the preaching of the apostles were wrought in confirmation of it; so Luke also relates that the Lord ‘gave testimony to the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done’ by the hands of the apostles

Acts 14:3

(Institutes, Prefatory Address to the Ring of France).

The wonders of Pent., like the miracles of Rome, are fraudulent. They are part and parcel of the only miracles that Scripture prophesies for the last days: the signs and wonders of the false christs and false prophets who would deceive the very elect, if it were possible (Matt. 24:24); the power and signs and lying wonders of the man of sin who will deceive those who do not receive the love of the truth (II Thess. 2:9-12). 

Beware! Do not be hoodwinked by the modern-day miracle-mongers!