Building upon my previous question Similarities and differences between Christian Mysticism and the Charismatic movement? and the excellent answer by GratefulDisciple, I would like to delve deeper into how Reformed Protestants understand and respond to the concept of Christian mysticism. This concept has a long Patristic and Medieval tradition present in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and is also evident in more recent movements such as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement.

To keep the scope narrow, I would like this question to focus solely on Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement, leaving the discussion of Christian mysticism as traditionally understood by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches to a separate question.

In addition, I think in this context it is worth mentioning Daniel Castelo's insightful book, Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, which GratefulDisciple's answer also references. Castelo's book argues for reinterpreting Pentecostalism as a mystical tradition within the broader historical framework of Christian mysticism. The book's synopsis states:

Informed reassessment of Pentecostalism as a mystical tradition of the church universal

Pentecostalism, says Daniel Castelo, is commonly framed as "evangelicalism with tongues" or dismissed as simply a revivalist movement. In this book Castelo argues that Pentecostalism is actually best understood as a Christian mystical tradition.

Taking a theological approach to Pentecostalism, Castelo looks particularly at the movement's methodology and epistemology as he carefully distinguishes it from American evangelicalism. Castelo displays the continuity between Pentecostalism and ancient church tradition, creating a unified narrative of Pentecostalism and the mystical tradition of Christianity throughout history and today. Finally, he uses a test case to press the question of what the interactions between mystical theology and dogmatics could look like.

With all that said, what are the views of Reformed Protestants on Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement?

  • 2
    + 1, also difficult to answer
    – Mike
    Commented May 28 at 3:10

1 Answer 1


I want to preface that although I am largely going to speak disparagingly about the Charismatic movement of today, in general, it does not mean that a person who is charismatic is necessarily less godly, less wise, receiving less rewards in heaven, etc.

Baptism with the Spirit and spiritual gifts

From a Reformed perspective, whatever the outpouring of the Holy Spirit means, or gifts that are available, it was best displayed during the Reformation and if we could ever experience the same power of the Spirit, we would really know what a revival is. There is no such thing as "latter day rain", etc., that is, revivals are not ‘new things’ with ‘new ideas’ but just a turning back by repentance and faith to the faith of the past and waiting on the Spirit to enable us to do so.

The basic Reformed position is that the Anointed One, that is, The Christ, would be known because he would receive the Spirit in a very extraordinary way and would in turn provide the Spirit to believers in an extraordinary way. So John the Baptist introduced the Messiah this way, being told that the Messiah will both receive the Sprit and provide Baptism with the Spirit (John 1:33).

John the Baptist was nothing but someone Baptizing in water. But not only is Jesus the God-man, he possesses all the riches of heaven in His hand, who could baptize sinners into his kingdom and baptize believers with gifts and life, springing up like a well of water gushing into heaven.

In other words, no man will ever experience the Spirit now except by faith in Christ and by looking to Him. In addition, the measure of the Spirit that believers in the New Testament era would and do experience of God, is an extraordinary fullness among all the believers, which was not experienced to the same degree by those in the Old Testament.

Continuationist vs. Cessationist

Where Reformed view would definitely break with the Charismatic movement (probably unanimously, even among those few Calvinist churches that consider themselves Continuationist and not Cessationist) is in the timing of the Pentecost. Typically in the Charismatic movement, Baptism of the Sprit is seen on a timeline. Reformed believers have never thought this way. Charismatics usually follow the idea that just as believers reported in book of Acts had the Spirit indwelling in them and then afterwards the Spirit was poured out on them resulting in their speaking in tongues, the same thing happens in that order now. That after conversion, where you have the indwelling Spirit, you need to be Baptized in the Spirit with the "evidence of speaking in tongues.". This would mean your as blimd as the Apostles were before Pentecost and afterwards everything would be clear. Reformed see the great our outpouring of Pentecost a history that occurred once. The Spirit can keep being poured out by Christ and is always so but also in extraordinary ways under his sovereignty without a timeline.

(Personal note: as a teenager I spoke in tongues, being brought up after my conversion in a charismatic, not Reformed, environment. I gradually converted to a Reformed view and I regarded my speaking in tongues as nothing more than "faking it", to mimic what I thought life should be like according to the book of Acts.)

This singular view of baptism (always once after conversion) is not shared by any well-known Reformed theologians.

About the gifts in general

Reformed believers and the theology of famous Reformed theologians such as John Owen, recognize that technically there is no proof of the cessation of spiritual gifts in the scripture. It is more from the standpoint of the "observation of the facts" that they have ceased. In addition, due to the sovereignty of God, there is no reason to expect them again of necessity. This does not mean God does not remain sovereign; He could again pour the gifts out to whom He chooses. I will leave a long quote from a famous Reformed theologian frequently referred to as the Teacher of teachers to prove my claim about the possibility of charismatic gifts still being in operation. But this is only the door left open with a small crack! The door is not wide open, with the expectation that we should be confident God is always willing to give miraculous gifts of to tongues or healing to his church.

To make things more complex, I do not really think there are any very famous Reformed theologians that have published great works after the arrival of the Charismatic movement. This means most Reformed believers who read their books will notice that their books don't comment on the recent movements, as those theologians were already dead. There are a couple of recently published Reformed systematic theologies that go over various views of the Holy Spirit. I suspect they are all more Cessasionist than the dead theologians are. (John Piper has not really written exhaustive systematic theology books. He has sermons.) Possibly in the future there will be one with the stature of Charles Hodge but as of now I am not aware of any.

Aside from Owen, there are other famous reformed theologians that are very leery of leaving even this spiritual-gifts-door open with a crack. Even one associated with great outpourings of the Spirit such as Johnathan Edwards who had written things along this line. The basic idea is like this: The gifts were necessary until the scriptures were completed. Now if the gifts came again it would mean they are authenticating a new message. But that can never be, therefore the gifts can't come again. So it is a sort of logical deduction, not just from observation that extra ordinary miraculous gifts have truly ceased. So actually among great Reformed leaders, John Owen and Jonathan Edwards being certainly famous and well respected, do not necessarily absolutely agree on the topic completely.

So what do Reformed believers think about the Charismatic movement? Well, they are essentially pessimistic about how it can often be fake, but the possibility is not fully closed. For example, it is common for believers to pray for healing and they believe healing is possible. They might not think the gift of healing is clinging onto an individual but when two or more pray together the miracle could happen somewhat anonymously.

About being inspired by the Holy Spirit

Or another example: Most Reformed theologians will very much dislike any claims of immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit without it being mediated by the Word, even a simple case of the Spirit bringing to memory Bible verses must mean you have forgotten but suddenly remembered the word and interpreted correctly. They insist the inspiration must be from the Word. This is to avoid the "inner light" crowd who ask why we should study and work hard to understand the Bible, God's word, if the Spirit can just go around independently giving believers wisdom without study? But we can see a contradiction, to a degree, that when you are called to the ministry, suddenly now you can and should have direct immediate assurance from the Spirit without the need for it to be based on a particular verse of scripture. So yes, there could be a direct leading of the Spirit for big decisions, etc. I personally feel unsure of everything I do and seek some comfort from a quick prayer and usually just pray that I would receive wisdom so I can think properly.

Some somewhat famous reformed believers who might be said to be more open to the charismatic movement, in a reserved way, at least much more than Owen or Edwards is someone like Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones, and still alive John Piper. I do not know a lot about John Piper but he seems quite fine in my book. As a teenager, I read a lot of Lloyd-Jones and he even thought that the gift of tongues could be present, just not given to all, and that it was a heavenly language. John Owen would definitely not agree and say it was the ability to speak a human language that you did not know through human learning in order to extend the gospel to other races. Same as a more recent famous systematic reformed theologian, Charles Hodge. He also denies there ever was a gift with a heavenly language unknown to all humans.

About present day spiritual gifts and my views

The main idea with someone like Lloyd-Jones or Piper is that you should want to be baptized in the Spirit all the time and do not think about like just a single event. Apparently Billy Graham also said (about the filling of the Holy Spirit): "I do not care how you get it, just get it."

In general, Reformed believers are not fully against the charismatics, just mostly. My personal view is the same: I do not believe gifts can never happen but think we should potentially pray for them, at least when we feel the need. In the case of extraordinary miraculous gifts, such as instant otherwise unexplained healing from the laying of hands, I'm not sure that they happen currently, maybe not even since the generation of the Apostles. Yet I DO think the gifts of wisdom, teaching, faith and other various spiritual gifts are in operation. I am just not convinced that extraordinary gifts such as healing and tongues are actually real. I am typically Reformed and I am suspicious about people claiming to have those gifts. I was even suspicious of my own claim to having them in my earlier period.

I do not worry about the topic. I do not understand it all. I may change my mind. I am more concerned about what I do understand and fail to believe properly. I am more concerned with how to survive tomorrow, by a faith that is constantly tested. I really think all that matters is accepting the doctrine of the atonement, forgiveness of sins, being redeemed from the Law, imputed with Christ righteousness in the legal and forensic external sense (from without), which alone can make a wicked sinner righteous by faith. That alone can satisfy the demands of God’s holy law and transforms the believer's sinful human nature. Believing in these things is the only way to expect to experience the overwhelming baptism of the Spirit.

I agree with the theory that Justification by Faith recovered during the Protestant revolt from a fallen church should be seen as the great Spiritual outpouring of the Holy Spirit in great fulness and was the greatest revival in history since the days of Christ. This means any future revival will be a return to not a revision of the central doctrines recovered, namely ‘justification by faith’ having supremacy and filling the heart with the Spirit. Unfortunately we now enter dark times, as the glow from those days seems to fade more and more. This is why I remain cynical of Charismatics who often know little about these great doctrines of which the Spirit is meant to illuminate our minds and to send us to testify in the world. Justification by faith, legally satisfying the requirement of the Law is the gospel. People baptized in the Spirit do not resist it but rejoice in it.

“Under the law entering his presence in the holy of holies was a blinding light of certain condemned death. In Christ we are blinded by a clear conscience through the merits of his death and catapulted into immeasurable heights of glory.“

If this quote does not excite a person, I think they are not filled with the Holy Spirit and in fact they are not a Christian at all! Even if they speak in tongues, even if they are the greatest Biblical Scholar in all the world honored above all the rest, if they don’t wholly rely on Christ for a cleaned and happy conscience while also hating their daily shameful sinfulness, they are in real danger of eternal damnation. At the minimum they know nothing about the Holy Spirit.

I have quoted this same text on a previous question but will do so again as it illustrates the Reformed view without being too narrow.

Quote from John Owen

John Owen concludes this topic in the following way. From The works of John Owen Vol. IV edited by The Rev. William H. Goold, D.D. and published by T & T Clark (1862). Quote from pages 474–477 (emphasis mine):

There was no certain limited time for the cessation of these gifts. Those peculiar unto the apostles were commensurate unto their lives. None after their decease had either apostolical office, power, or gifts. The like may be said of the evangelists. Nor have we any undoubted testimony that any of those gifts which were truly miraculous, and every way above the faculties of men, were communicated unto any after the expiration of the generation of them who conversed with Christ in the flesh, or those who received the Holy Ghost by their ministry. It is not unlikely but that God might on some occasions, for a longer season, put forth his power in some miraculous operations; and so he yet may do, and perhaps doth sometimes. But the superstition and folly of some ensuing ages, inventing and divulging innumerable miracles false and foolish, proved a most disadvantageous prejudice unto the gospel, and a means to open a way unto Satan to impose endless delusions upon Christians; for as true and real miracles, with becoming circumstances, were the great means that won and reconciled a regard and honour unto Christian religion in the world, so the pretence of such as either were absolutely false, or such as whose occasions, ends, matter, or manner, were unbecoming the greatness and holiness of Him who is the true author of all miraculous operations, is the greatest dishonour unto religion that any one can invent. But although all these gifts and operations ceased in some respect, some of them absolutely, and some of them as to the immediate manner of communication and degree of excellency; yet so far as the edification of the church was concerned in them, something that is analogous unto them was and is continued. He who gave “some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists,” gave also “some pastors and teachers.” And as he furnished the former with extraordinary gifts, so as far as any thing of the like kind is needful for the continual edification of the church, he bestows it on the latter also, as shall be declared.

And these gifts of the Spirit, added unto his grace in real holiness, were the glory, honour, and beauty of the church of old. Men have but deceived themselves and others when they have feigned a glory and beauty of the church in other things. And whatever any think or say, where these gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are the ornaments of the church, her “clothing of wrought gold,” and her “raiment of needlework,” are neglected and lost, and they think to adorn her with the meretricious paint of pompous ceremonies, with outward grandeur, wealth, and power, she is utterly fallen from her chastity, purity, and integrity. But it is evident that this is the state of many churches in the world; which are therefore worldly and carnal, not spiritual or evangelical. Power, and force, and wealth,—the gifts, in this case, of another spirit,—under various pretences and names, are their life and glory; indeed their death and shame. I deny not but that it is lawful for ministers of the gospel to enjoy earthly possessions, which they do attain by any commendable way among other men. Neither are they required, unless in extraordinary cases, to part with the right and use of their temporal goods because they are so ministers of Christ; though those who are so indeed will not deny but that they ought to use them in a peculiar manner unto the glory of Christ and honour of the gospel, beyond other men. Neither shall I ever question that wherein the Scripture is so express, namely, that those who “labour in the word and doctrine” should have a convenient, yea, an honourable subsistence provided for them, according to the best ability of the church, for their work’s sake. It is in like manner also granted that the Lord Christ hath committed all that power which, with respect unto the edification of the church, he will exercise in this world unto the church itself, as it cannot, without a virtual renunciation of the gospel and faith in Christ Jesus as the head and king of the church, be supposed that this power is any other but spiritual, over the souls and consciences of men; and therefore cannot this power be exercised, or be any way made effectual, but by virtue of the spiritual gifts we treat of: but for men to turn this spiritual power, to be exercised only by virtue of spiritual gifts, into an external coercive power over the persons, bodies, liberties, and lives of men, to be exercised by law-courts, in ways, forms, manners, utterly foreign to the gospel and all evangelical administrations, without the least pretence unto or appearance of the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Ghost therein; yea, and by persons by whom they are hated and derided, acting with pride, scorn, and contempt of the disciples of Christ and over them, being utterly ignorant of the true nature and use of all gospel administrations,—this is to disorder the church, and instead of a house of spiritual worship, in some instances to turn it into “a den of thieves.” Where hereunto there are, moreover, annexed earthly revenues, containing all food and fuel of corrupt lusts, with all things satisfactory unto the minds of worldly, sensual men, as a meet reward of these carnal administrations,—as it is at this day in the church of Rome,—there all use of the gifts of the Holy Ghost is excluded, and the church is brought into extreme desolation. And although these things are as contrary to the gospel as darkness is to light, yet the world, for many reasons not now to be insisted on, being willing to be deceived in this matter, it is generally apprehended that there is nothing so pernicious unto the church, so justly to be watched against and rooted out, as a dislike of their horrible apostasies, in the corrupt depravation of all evangelical administrations. This was not the state, this was not the condition, of the primitive churches; their life consisted in the grace of the Spirit, and their glory in his gifts. None of their leaders once dreamed of that new kind of beauty, glory, and power, consisting in numberless superstitious ceremonies, instead of religious worship; worldly grandeur, instead of humility and self-denial; and open tyranny over the consciences and persons of men, in the room of spiritual authority, effectual in the power of Christ, and by virtue of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

  • @GratefulDisciple - nice editing. I usually tap these answers on my phone. So there are often several mistakes. It all is fine.
    – Mike
    Commented May 29 at 0:05

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