As a person who considers himself both reformed and charismatic, I stand sometimes in “no man’s land” drawing fire from both sides and from another side which I often underestimate. My reformed brothers and sisters would say that I am exalting extra-biblical revelation over Scripture. My charismatic brothers and sisters say that I am not being true to the free will of man. The side that I often underestimate is the side of my friends who are primarily Baptist in their doctrine. They think that I have gone off the deep end in regards to Calvinism and the gifts of the Spirit and they want to emphasize the aproachableness of the gospel. So here I am, unashamedly Baptist in regards to believer’s baptism, unashamedly reformed as I hold to the soveriegnty of God in all things, and unashamedly charismatic as I believe that all of the gifts of the Spirit are available for our use today. As I once wrote, “I can only be true to what I believe the Scripture says and continually ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.”
Recently, in an email discussion between G.I. Williamson and a member of a Yahoo group that I belong to called “Reformed Charimatic”, Williamson said that a person could not hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith and be a charismatic:
“This message is primarily to those of us on this list who hold the Westminster Standards as our subordinate standard of doctrine (subordinate to sacred Scripture of course). Those on the list who are familiar with the WCF but do not hold to it are also encouraged to reply.Grace and peace be yours in abundance:
I was engaged in an email debate with G.I. Williamson and he told me that Chapter 1, section 10 of the WCF requires those that hold to the WCF to be Cessationists.
‘The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.’
I might be dense, but I don’t see how this would in any way require us to be Cessationists. Though this does raise some interesting questions.How does this relate to Charismatic manifestations? What exactly are “private spirits”?Does our Charismatic position lessen our committment to the suffiency of Scripture? And the all important question: how does a Reformed Charismatic in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convince his Presbytary his views do not go against the WCF and Reformed Theology in general? This question may be unanswerable. Any wisdom you all have would be most appreciated. May our awesome and holy God draw you closer to Himself.”
Just to let you know, from his website, “G. I. Williamson received the B.D. degree from Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary. He has served congregations of the old United Presbyterian Church of North America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He is author of popular study guides to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism, and is presently editor of Ordained Servant, a journal for elders and deacons. ”
A man who has become a friend of mine and one who I had quote here often as well as look to him for guidance, answered my friend this way:
G. I. Williamson is a gifted teacher of God’s Word and a faithful Christianpastor — I was his immediate successor as pastor of a church in Kansas overthirty years ago — I have also greatly profited from many things that hehas written. But, like the rest of us, he sometimes is incorrect, and thisis one of those times. His understanding of _The Westminster Confession_ isslightly skewed at this point. Why do I say that?
First of all, I believe that the five solas of the Reformation areabsolutely basic and fundamental: _Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, Sola Fide,Soli Deo Gloria_ and especially _Sola Scriptura_. _Sola Scriptura_,Scripture Alone, means that only the Bible is infallible and therefore onlyits teachings can bind people’s consciences as the Word of God. Bothindividual Christians and the Church should be guided by many things inaddition to Scripture, but we judge these other things by Scripture, andnothing sits in judgment of Scripture. For example, when I read theScriptures, I make use of some of the following on a daily basis:translations into my native tongue, English; Greek, Hebrew and Aramaiclexicons, grammars and word studies; historical and archaeological texts;biblical and systematic theologies; creeds and confessions composed downthrough the ages; and commentaries on the biblical text. As I go about making decisions in my everyday life, in addition to making use of theabove, I consult with my doctor about diabetes, airline schedules abouttravel, consumer reports about possible purchases and many other things. If somebody is praying for me and tells me that they believe they have aword from the Lord for me, I take it seriously. I’ll pray about it,evaluate it by the Scriptures and maybe consult with my wife and a fewfriends about it, but I will never take it as the Word of God, infalliblybinding my conscience to obedience. My view of these things is that of the _Westminster Confession of Faith_, asit has been historically understood. The Reformed tradition embraces the doctrine of _Sola Scriptura_ as overagainst the wild Antinomian cults that sprang up during the religiousferment of the Reformation, on the one hand, and over against the RomanCatholic idea that Scripture is simply part of the authoritative Tradition of the Church, on the other. That Tradition, according to Rome, not only gave the Church the Bible, but continues to produce out of itself newdoctrines to be added to the corpus of truth that Christians are to receive today, doctrines such as: seven sacraments, indulgences, purgatory, the Papacy functioning as the successor of the Apostle Peter, Papal infallibility, and the immaculate conception, perpetual virginity andassumption of the Virgin Mary, to heaven as the Mediatrix of All Graces andQueen of Heaven._Sola Scriptura_ does not mean that God stopped speaking to people after hecompleted his Revelation in Scripture. It means that of all the ways thatGod guides us, there is only one that he has guaranteed to us is always his reliable, only one of which we may say without doubt that it is God’s Word,and therefore there is only one infallible Yardstick. Thus only the Biblecan bind the conscience of the believer in terms of what he must believe andhow he ought to live.
The entire first chapter of the _Westminster Confession of Faith_ isrelevant to this topic, in particular paragraphs one, six and ten.”Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence doso far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave menunexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, andof his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased theLord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and todeclare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the betterpreserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishmentand comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and themalice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing:which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways ofGod’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.” (Confession, I,i.)
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory,man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture,or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: untowhich nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of theSpirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the savingunderstanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there aresome circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of thechurch, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered bythe light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rulesof the Word, which are always to be observed.” (Confession, I, vi.)
“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to bedetermined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers,doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whosesentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in theScripture.” (Confession, I, x.)
A facile reading of these paragraphs, outside of their historical contexts,particularly the last clause of the first one, has lead some Presbyteriansactually to believe that the Confession teaches and requires cessationism.However, an examination of the teachings of the theologians who helped toproduce the document should give us sufficient pause that we slow down andread these paragraphs more carefully. Consider, for example, these wordswritten around the time of the Assembly by Samuel Rutherford, a majorinfluence there, that the gift of prophecy, including foretelling thefuture, continues after the closing of the canon of Scripture. However, he distinguishes between immediate inspiration, which produced the Bible, and this other guidance which was not infallible:”Of revelations extraordinary of men in our ages not immediately inspiredand how they are charactered from Satanicall Revelations”There is a 3 revelation of some particular men, who have foretold things tocome even since the ceasing of the Canon of the word, as _Iohn Husse,Wickeliefe, Luther_ have foretold things to come, and they certainely fellout, and in our nation of _Scotland_, M. _George Wishart_ foretold that_Cardinall Beaton_ should not come out alive at the Gates of the Castle ofSt. _Andrewes_, but that he should dye a shamefull death, and he was hangedover the window that he did look out at, when he saw the _man of God_ burnt,M. _Knox_ prophecied of the hanging of the _Lord of Grange_, M. _Ioh.Davidson_ uttered prophecies, knowne to many of the kingdome, diverse Holyand mortified preachers in _England_ have done the like . . . .. Theseworthy reformers tye no man to beleeve their prophecies as Scriptures .. . .they never gave themselves out as organs immediately inspired by the _HolyGhost_ . . . yea they never denounced Iudgement against those that beleevednot their predictions, of these particular events & facts . . . …” (_sic_.throughout) (Samuel Rutherford, _A Survey of the Spirituall AntichristOpening the Secrets of Familisme and Antinomianisme in the AntichristianDoctrine of Iohn Saltmarsh, and Will. Del, the Present Preachers of the ArmyNow in England, and of Robert Town, Tob. Crisp, H. Denne, Eaton, and Others.In Which Is Revealed the Rise and Spring of Antinomians, Familists,Libertines, Swenck-feldians, Enthysiasts, & c. The Minde of Luther a MostProfessed Opposer of Antinomians, is cleared, and Diverse ConsiderablePoints of the Law and the Gospel, of the Spirit and Letter, of the TwoCovenants, of the Nature of Free Grace, Exercise Under Temptations,Mortification, Justification, Sanctification, are Discovered_, (London,1648), p. 42) (I have this interesting work in my library; it and many otherout of print Puritan works can be obtained through University Microfilms ofAnn Arbor, Michigan.)Because the Bible is the only revelation from God which he has left to theChurch as an infallible and authoritative rule, only its teachings can beimposed on other people. Here, says Samuel Rutherford, is the differencebetween the Reformers and the Enthusiasts: both believed that God wasdirecting them, but the Reformers never presented their prophecies to peopleas something which was infallible or binding on the consciences ofbelievers. The Enthusiasts, on the other hand, claimed the same kind ofimmediate inspiration as that of the authors of Scripture and thereforedemanded that their prophecies be received on a par with Scripture.(_Ibid._, p. 43.)Samuel Rutherford was a major influence on the Confession. Scotland sentsix representatives to the Assembly — two laymen: Lord John Maitland andSir Archibald Johnston — and four ministers: Alexander Henderson, GeorgeGillespie, Samuel Rutherford, and Robert Baillie. The four ministersrepresented the best theological minds of Scottish Presbyterianism at thetime. Rutherford’s _Lex Rex_, published one year into the Assembly, in 1644,was a major apologetic work against Stewart absolutism, something vital toParliament. Furthermore, one of the reasons that the Scots weredisproportionately influential was that the English Parliament was verydependent on the military support of Scotland to hold Charles I in check.What that means is that when Samuel Rutherford published his book thatteaches that God continues to speak to people after the completion of thecanon of Scripture, he was not outside the mainstream of Seventeenth CenturyReformed thinking, at least in terms of the British Isles. It is noteworthythat the book was published within one year of the completion of the creedaldocuments of the Westminster Assembly. He published it in 1648; theConfession was completed in 1646, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms in1647. Rutherford’s views that God still sometimes foretells the future istherefore not only not contrary to the Confession of Faith, it is within themainstream of Puritan-Presbyterian-Reformed thinking. Once one hasunderstood Rutherford, one is able to understand the first chapter of theConfession without reading into it the incorrect views of the godly scholarBenjamin B. Warfield. I do not mean this as an attack on Dr. Warfield; Istill read his works with great profit, but he did misunderstand theWestminster Standards at this point.If we look more carefully at paragraphs one, six and ten, we will see whatit is that is no longer being revealed to the Church. Paragraph one states,”those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being nowceased.”Most people lift that clause out of its grammatical moorings, and completelydistort what it is stating, but one must notice how it is part of a largerstatement and must be understood in its context: “his will” refers back to”the same,” which points back to “that his will unto his church,” whichrefers to “that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary forsalvation.” In other words, we do not need the “traditions” of aninfallible Church or the wacky “new revelations” of the Antinomians to tellus what is necessary for salvation. All that we need to know about that hasbeen written in the Bible, where the Apostolic gospel has been depositedonce and for all. As such, this clause is stating that the canon is completeand that the Bible gives us all we need to know in order to go to heaven.It is not denying God’s continued use of certain methods of guidance, onlythat he is not using them to impart further propositions to the Christianfaith or in such a way that what is communicated is universally binding onthe Church. As Jude affirmed, the corpus of Christian truth, the Faith, hasbeen “once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3.)Paragraph six expands this understanding:”The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory,man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture,or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: untowhich nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of theSpirit (against the Antinomian fanatics) or traditions of men (against Romanand Anglo Catholicism).” (Confession, I, vi.)The Westminster theologians understood that both the traditions of men andnew revelations of the Spirit were being touted as God’s truth to bind theChurch. As over against such, they lifted up the Scripture as theinfallible Word of God, with nothing on its par and nothing to be added toit.Paragraph ten sums up the Reformed position:”The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to bedetermined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers,doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whosesentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in theScripture. Matt. 22:29, 31; Acts 28:25; I John 4:1-6.” (Confession, I.,x.)We should understand the phrase “all decrees of councils, opinions ofancient writers, doctrines of men” as referring to the “traditions of men”in paragraph six, while “private spirits,” points back to the “newrevelations of the Spirit” mentioned there. The proof texts corroboratethis, because the Westminster theologians listed 1 John 4:1-6 there, whichsays:”Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to seewhether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out intothe world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spiritthat acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, butevery spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is thespirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now isalready in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcomethem, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in theworld. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint ofthe world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoeverknows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”John, writing at the end of the first century, does not tell us to rejectcontinuing revelations; he tells us to test these revelations by theYardstick, or canon, of Truth, the Apostolic Faith, which is now containedin its entirety in the Holy Scriptures alone._Sola Scriptura_ is a vital truth — indeed, one may say it is thefundamental of fundamentals of Presbyterianism and the Reformed Tradition –that the Bible is infallible and only its teachings can be imposed onpeople. This is what separates Reformed people from many other Christians:we allow for true liberty of conscience and forbid all non-biblical rules,and not simply anti-biblical rules from the life of the Church, because webelieve that the Church is limited to the written Word in what it requiresof people.However, I submit that a Reformed view of preaching ultimately leads to abalance between the extremists in both the Cessationist and non-Cessationistcamps, because preaching is more than the intellectual study and applicationof the intellectual content of what the Bible teaches; I submit thatpreaching is Christ himself speaking to the people of God through the HolySpirit illuminating and applying the Scriptures. As the late John Murraywrote: “The implication is that *Christ speaks in the gospel proclamation*. . . .. The dignity of the messengers . . . is derived from the fact thatthey are the Lord’s spokesmen. In the last clause of verse fourteen theapostle is thinking of the institution which is the ordinary and mosteffectual means of propagation of the gospel, namely, the official preachingof the Word by those appointed to this task.” (John Murray, _The Epistle tothe Romans_ (Grand Rapids, 1968), Vol. II, pp. 58, 59. emphasis mine.)Professor Murray is saying that it is Christ Jesus himself who is the realpreacher one hears when he hears real preaching. His view is clear in themodern translations of Romans 10:14. The rules of Greek grammar establishthis idea unequivocally.”The classical rule for . . . [the Greek word to hear] is: the person whosewords are heard stands in the genitive [this is the case in Romans 10:14],the thing (or person) about which one hears in the accusative . . . ..” (F.Blass, A. Debrunner, and R. Funk, _A Greek Grammar of the New Testament andOther Early Christian Literature_, (Chicago, 1960), p. 95.)Something supernatural happens in true preaching: “A preacher is not aperson who merely speaks concerning Christ, but one through whom it pleasesChrist Himself to speak and to cause His own voice to be heard by Hispeople. The thing that matters in any sermon is whether we hear the voiceof Jesus say: ‘Come unto me and rest;’ whether we hear Him say, ‘Repent andbelieve;’ whether His voice resounds in our deepest soul, ‘Your sins areforgiven, and I give unto you eternal life.’ . . . Preaching as to itscontents is strictly limited to the Word of Christ in the Bible. Thepreacher has nothing of his own to deliver, strictly nothing. When hedelivers a message of his own, apart from the Word of Christ, he ceases tobe a preacher. A preacher, therefore, must proclaim the whole counsel ofGod unto salvation as contained in Holy Writ.” (Herman Hoeksema, _ReformedDogmatics_ (Grand Rapids, 1966), pp. 638, 639.)Preaching is a form of the Word of God: “Here, the word of God is to beunderstood as the word as it reaches men, not as _scripture_ in the specificsense of the term, but as the word _drawn from_ scripture, assimilated bythe conscience of the Church *under the direction of the Holy Spirit*, andspread abroad to the motleyest of men in the form of preaching,exhortations, addresses, messages, training, instruction, books, pamphlets,and tracts. In each of these cases, the word of God accomplishes aparticular work. *Whatever its form, God always stands behind his word.*It is he who causes it to touch men and calls them in this way to conversionand life.” (Pierre Ch. Marcel, _The Relevance of Preaching_, (Grand Rapids,1963), p. 18. italicized words: emphasis the author’s. boldfaced words:emphasis mine.)The Bible is the fixed, solid standard, but without the anointing of theHoly Spirit it does not impart life. Those of us who hold to the same highview of the inspiration of the Scriptures as did the Pharisees, must notmake their mistake about the source of life and power: “You diligentlystudy the Scriptures because *you think that by them you possess eternallife.* These are the Scriptures that testify about *me*, yet you refuse tocome to *me to have life*.” (John 5:39, 40.) For the Christian, whether heis sitting under preaching, engaged in his own private study of Scripture orseeking a deeper understanding of Scripture from the writings of believersover the past two thousand years, it is the Lord Jesus himself who is theheart of the matter and not simply adding to our biblical and theologicalknowledge, as Saint Paul tells us about himself, “That I may know him, andthe power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, beingmade conformable unto his death . . .” (Philippians 3:10.)As a Presbyterian minister, I stand within the historic, mainstream, whichaffirms that God can still speak today — indeed, which understands that hestill speaks in preaching, which is the primary way that God confrontspeople with his Word — but which also affirms that there is but one rule orstandard for how we ought to believe and how we ought to live, HolyScripture.Presbyterians are the heirs of godly ministers such as the “prophet,”Alexander Peden, who foretold numerous future events. I would submit thatsixteenth and seventeenth century Calvinism, particularly involving theScots and the French — the French Reformed Church, the Huguenots, whoexperienced the gift of tongues centuries ago — was much more liberatedwith regard to the work of the Holy Spirit than the modern, conservativebranch of the Presbyterian stream with its roots in American Fundamentalism.In many quarters of the Reformed world, we have lost a measure of ourheritage and sold a bit of our birthright for a mess of intellectualisticporridge, producing an intellectually sound Church, which often seems tooffer its adherents little more than stoical resignation in the face of thetidal wave of chaos that is coming on the Western world.
Cordially in Christ,