Charismatic, Liturgical, and Reformed

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In part one, “We are All Pentecostals,” I tried to make the case from Acts 2 that all believers are pentecostals—we are all living with a post-Pentecost power from the Holy Spirit.

Christianity is about a vital connection to Christ, with the Holy Spirit of God inside us, for a life of joy and peace and power in the Church and the World. Pentecost was a one-time event, but it’s also the firstfruits of a whole harvest. Those of us believing in Christ and extending his Kingdom on earth through the power of the Holy Spirit: We are the harvest.

So what does it look like for an evangelical, Reformed, church-planting church to be appropriately Pentecostal today? How can we embrace the power of God for our lives, relationships, ministries, and churches? How can we become pentecostal (small “p,” not the capital “P” denomination and subculture) without giving up an inch of our liturgical, Reformed tradition?

Charismatic, Liturgical, and Reformed

One of my favorite books of the past few years was written by Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University in Canada. Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal makes the claim that our churches should strive to be integrated across these three major church traditions.  

I prefer the terms Reformed, Liturgical, and Charismatic, but the book represents my heart for the church as well as anything I’ve ever come across.

My heart and prayer for Trinity Community Church is that we are at once:

  • Reformed – emphasizing the Scriptures, biblical theology, and expository preaching

  • Liturgical – practicing the Lord’s Supper, baptism, liturgical worship, and the church calendar

  • Charismatic – embracing the Spirit’s presence and power through the Holy Spirit

Surely many congregations desire to balance all three ways-of-being in the church, but in my personal experience, our theological and ecclesial tribe is weakest in the third expression.

If we honestly look at many of our lives and churches, we see a lack of the meaningful, transformative power of God working in and through us.

We want to recognize that gifts (Greek: phanerosis; also “manifestation”) are given (Greek: charisma; also “gift of grace”) by the Holy Spirit. In other words, spiritual gifts aren’t something separate from God, something else sent by God.

As Sam Storms writes, “The gifts are God himself working in and through us.”

Of course, the ministries and gifts of the Holy Spirit are of secondary importance compared to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. But that does not mean that the Holy Spirit’s work is of little importance; instead, the work of Christ enables us to be welcoming of God himself through worship, prayer, and gifts.

The gifts of the Spirit are not an optional aspect of a healthy church. We cannot be hesitant to engage the Scriptures and open ourselves to God’s voice today because of the errors of others or out of disdain for the charismatic subculture.

Paul wrote, “There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6). And then moments later, “All these [spiritual gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 11). In essence, the old apostle was telling us that all of the gifts, from teaching and evangelism to prophesy and tongues, are tangible manifestations of divine power from Christ to and through us.

The ministries of the Spirit exist “for the common good” of the church (1 Cor. 12:7), and it’s my belief that if we commit ourselves to honest biblical study and deep theological reflection, the Lord will richly reward our pursuit of him in Spirit and in truth.  

Becoming Charismatic

I was raised in a charismatic church—Metro Vineyard Fellowship in Kansas City, MO—which was founded by Mike Bickle, who later founded the International House of Prayer. Overall, it was a great church to grow up in; Sam Storms and Michael Sullivant were especially influential pastors who wisely balanced Word and Spirit.

After moving away from college, I became disconnected from my charismatic roots and settled into evangelical Bible and Reformed churches that could be described as “open but very cautious.”

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And yet I have a hard time being merely “open but cautious” when Paul writes: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

Throughout the process of deciding to plant Trinity, the Holy Spirit has worked in unusual and profound ways around us. We received some fresh prophetic words from a trusted friend that helped confirm the Lord’s call. Several friends felt called to the same work as us, and there has been incredible spiritual openness and momentum behind our transition back to Missouri. All along, I have felt an increasing call from the Lord to re-consider the ministries of the Holy Spirit through prayer and deep study, and the result has been a fruitful and rewarding period of reflection and communion with God.

But being charismatic is not simply an “add on” to an existing Reformed church tradition. The heart of the charismatic movement is a reliance upon the Spirit and an embrace of his continuing work in our lives and churches. In fact, all of life is viewed somewhat differently from a charismatic perspective. We live in a world enchanted by the Spirit, where we can never be quite sure how he will surprise and equip us in Christ.

Pilgrimage to Oklahoma

I recently made a trip with my fellow Trinity pastor, Casey Smith, to Oklahoma City to visit with two churches. The first, Frontline Church, was planted in the past two decades and is a longtime member of Acts 29. Frontline is everything Reformed-missional churches aspire to be: They are healthy, growing through conversion and discipleship, led by a diverse leadership team, and gather in several congregations across the city. And they are openly and passionately charismatic.

The second church we visited was Sam Storms’s Bridgeway Church. Bridgeway was planted as a passionately charismatic church several decades ago, and Sam was hired as lead pastor in the past ten years. Bridgeway has a more traditionally charismatic feel to it than Frontline, but it is also highlighted by Sam’s deep, expository, pack-an-energy-bar-for-the-sermon preaching.

As far as I could tell, the two churches—who work closely together in a beautiful way—believe the same things about the ministries of the Holy Spirit. But they practice the ministries and gifts of the Spirit in noticeably different ways.

Seeing how these two faithful, charismatic-Reformed churches practice the ministries and gifts of the Spirit according to their own convictions and church cultures was well worth the twelve-hour roundtrip drive.

Conclusion

My big takeaway: It is indeed possible to be fiercely committed to the doctrines of grace, to thoughtfully preserve the liturgical traditions of the early church, and to experience the fullness of the Spirit’s gifts and ministries in biblical, powerful, appropriate expressions.