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In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.
>I recently came across your Web site and I wanted to make some contact. I have been an ordained AG [Assemblies of God] minister since 1984, but several years ago, by God's grace, I began a theological journey that has lead me into a solid belief in the Reformed faith.
I was educated Southern Baptist, after being raised Roman Catholic, and have been in the Pentecostal/ charismatic [P/C] church since 1979. While I still believe in the present day use of the charismata, I am no traditional P/C. I am undoubtedly a Calvinist. Gerstner and Sproul teachings have been my meat over the last few years. Am I an anomaly? Are there those who believe that all the gifts have not ceased yet are still Calvinistic in their belief?
I do not want or need all the answers right now. I just need to make contact with someone who understands where I am coming from. Can you help?
A Pentecostal (or charismatic)-Calvinist is unique, but I know of others who would fit into that description. So you are not alone. Now I would say there is no logical contradiction between believing in the doctrines of grace and believing in the "present day use of the charismata." However, the are two possible difficulties that might present themselves.
First off, there a several doctrines that have been traditional associated with each of these viewpoints that would contradict each other. The question would be whether they are logically connected or simply connected by "tradition."
For example, most P/Cs put a strong emphasis on the emotions. This often arises from two beliefs: 1) the idea of a distinction between the "mind" and the "heart." 2) Trichotomy.
OTOH, most in the Reformed tradition put a strong emphasis upon the intellect. This arises from recognizing that, Biblically, there is no distinction between the "mind" and the "heart" and a belief in dichotomy. I address both of these issue in more detail on my site [see "Christian" Mysticism and Soul, Spirit, and Knowing God].
Now, the question is, can one be a P/C without believing in the mind/ heart distinction and in trichotomy? Or conversely, can one ascribe to the Reformed doctrines of grace and believe in a mind/ heart distinction and trichotomy?
I am not completely sure of the answer to these questions. But my point is, there are more differences between the Reformed tradition and the P/C tradition than just in the areas of the charismata and the doctrines of grace.
Another area would be eschatology. P/Cs generally believe in a pre-millennial, and often dispensational scheme; whereas, those in the Reformed tradition are generally post-mil or a-mil. But again, is there a logical or just a traditional connection between these beliefs? In this case, I would say if is most likely the latter.
The point is, as you read Reformed literature, you will probably find more and more places where the Reformed teachings conflict with what is generally taught in P/C circles. The first step, of course, should be to go to the Bible and do some in depth study to determine if in fact the Reformed view is the correct one. If you decide that it is (as I did on point after point), you will find yourself moving further and further away from what is traditionally taught in P/C circles.
But the main question is, at what point would you cease to be "in" the P/C movement anymore? In other words, is a P/C solely defined as one who believes in the continuance of the gifts, or are these other doctrines also "necessary" for one to consider themselves to be still "in" the movement?
I can only say for me personally, when I left the charismatic movement it was not because I had come to believe the charismata were not for today. For me, it was all of these peripheral doctrines that I had come to disagree with. Most of all, it was the anti-intellectualism that mainly turned me off, which as indicated, is at least partially due to the doctrines of a heart/ mind distinction and trichotomy.
Now, I want to be careful here. I am not saying emotions are not important. And maybe a "problem" in the Reformed tradition is it is "too intellectual" and downplays the emotions too much. A balance between the two is needed. But I do think the intellect should be primary.
As Francis Schaeffer puts it in a quote I use in a couple of places on my site:
... we are not saying that there shouldn't be any emotion. There is and should be. But neither experience nor emotion is the basis for our faith. The basis for our faith is that certain things are true. The whole man, including the intellect, is to act upon the fact that certain things are true. That, of course, will lead to an experiential relationship with God; but the basis is content, not experience (Schaeffer, Francis. Complete Works. Vol.3. A Christian View of Spirituality. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1986, p.391).
It was problems such using emotions as the "basis" for faith, among others, that led me out of the charismatic movement. It was only later that I began my "journey" into Calvinism. So your situation is somewhat different form mine.
The second area of potential difficulty is another place where your situation differs from mine: you are an AG pastor whereas I was not yet involved in any kind of ministry at the time.
Now I am not sure, but I believe I have read that the AG is "officially" Arminian in its doctrine. You would know if it is included in the AG confession of faith or not. If it is, then you have a conflict: can you in good faith continue to be an AG pastor if you disagree with one of the tenants of its confession of faith? Only you can answer that.
But also there are these other doctrines, like the ones I mentioned above. I doubt there's anything in the AG confession about the mind/ heart distinction or trichotomy vs. dichotomy (although there might be, again you would know better than I), but I would guess there is a clause on pre-millennialism.
Now, the E Free Association that my church is associated with also has a clause on pre-millennialism. In this case, I am not sure if I disagree with it or not. Personally, I know that I am not a dispensationalism and not a post-millennialist, but I have never made a decision in regards to a-mil vs. pre-mil, although I am leaning towards a-mil at this time.
I talked to my pastor about this. My biggest "problem" with having the pre-mil clause in the E Free confession was not that I might disagree with it, but that it really shouldn't be there. The E Free's basic position is to be strong on the "essentials" but leave secondary doctrines open to debate. And pre-mil is most definitely NOT an essential doctrine.
So should I not be associated with the E Free church because I might disagree with one word in its confession? For me, the answer was to not worry about it. As I said it was only one word, I'm not really sure on my position, and most of all it really shouldn't be there given the E Free's general position.
But your case might be different. The AG does not have the general stance of being "open" to secondary doctrines. I am sure there is a clause about the charismata being for today in its confession. And I hope you would agree that is a secondary doctrine, and so are the doctrines of grace for that matter.
So I think my point should be obvious: you really need to go over the AG confession and be sure you still, truly ascribe to its teachings. If not, then you would have some thinking to do. You could stay an AG pastor and simply not make your convictions known. Or you could work to have the confession altered some so as to be at least "neutral" in regards to secondary issues like the doctrines of grace. Or, at the least, talk to other pastors or leaders in the AG and see what they think about a Pentecostal-Calvinist, AG pastor. Is it acceptable or not?
Of course, the most difficult thing would be for you to leave the AG and find a pastor-ship elsewhere. For me, I just left my charismatic church, but you're in a much more difficult situation.
I hope the above helps some, or maybe I've just brought up some issues that will make things even more difficult for you. I hope not! But you would probably have come to realize these things eventually anyway.
I thank you for your thoughtful reply. Some of the issues you raised are not of concern for me at this time. The fact that much of the P/C movement doesn't embrace intellectualism doesn't bother me too much. What does bother me is the trichotomist view, but I can work with that.
To give you a bit more info... I am currently involved in a Doctoral program with the Assemblies of God. Now my fellow students know me as a Calvinist. Some just raise their eye brows. I really think they are not too concerned because they have not thought my position through to its logical conclusion. If they do....well I could be in for an inquisition...but until then I am safe. It seems our group is more concerned with pragmatism than theology.
The doctrines of grace are very important to me...it seems that they are the line of departure as to whether one truly believes we are justified by faith in Christ alone or that we can do something to receive our salvation. Our doctrine of depravity is not total only partial. This is a major concern for me since I travel full time in an itinerant capacity.
As to eschatology, I can live with a pre-trib view although I don't think it is the most Scriptural nor the most historical. If it is just a view of how things will end up...well it all remains to be seen anyway. However, I have great difficulty with this view if it is part of the over all plan of dispensationalism in that there are different covenants and divergent ways of being saved. Here is where I really have trouble. Much of this influence on my thinking is due to the careful work of the late DR. John Gerstner on his critique of Dispensationalism in Wrongly dividing the Word of Truth.
I think I could have been more content to live with the illogical tensions that exist in our fellowship if we had not endeavored to prove our position. The P/C's had no real theology just an experience. But now being 78 or so years old, texts books are being written that are Arminian through and though and it make me want scream and shout... But by God's providence I am where I am and will remain so until something really tips the scales.
Please post my previous message again or this one for that matter...I really do want to find out if there are any "closet Calvinist" out there in the A/G. I know of two besides myself. Surely with all of our talk about the Spirit as being the Spirit of truth, there must be more than three of us who believe this way.
Thank you for the update. I really don't have much to add to what I said before. It sounds like you've already been thinking through the issues that I raised.
For follow-ups to the above discussion, see Calvinism - Calvinism and Pentecostalism.
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