As Paul closes his letter to the Corinthians, his final prayer is that they will experience “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:14). He wants nothing less than that they experience the Holy Spirit’s presence, participate in his work, and partake of his fellowship—that they grow in relationship with the third person of the Trinity.¹ Pastors, as we follow Paul’s model for ministry, this must be our burden as well.
We must remain dependent upon the Holy Spirit, pursue his presence and power for sanctification and service, and grow in eagerness to experience his gifts as described in Scripture. Scripture does not permit us merely to affirm the existence of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls us to grow in our relationship with him and our experience of his presence and work.
I know what some of you are thinking at this point: “Wait, this guy’s charismatic! You mention the third person of the Trinity, and bingo! suddenly this series becomes an apologetic for the charismatic view.” I can already feel the nervousness of my cessationist friends—just when you thought it was safe, the charismatic guy shows up!
It’s true, I represent an odd combination: I am Reformed and charismatic. Some would say that’s an oxymoron, like being a Presbyterian televangelist or a humble Duke basketball fan. But although being Reformed and charismatic may sound historically odd, there is nothing theologically strange about it. Believing in God’s sovereignty over all things and seeing God’s glory as the end of all things provide motivation for the pursuit of the gifts, guidance for the exercise of the gifts, and evaluation for the practice of the gifts.
As a Reformed and charismatic pastor, I am aware of the many theological and practical deficiencies of the charismatic movement. When some Christians hear the word charismatic, they think of the nutty things they have seen on television, or stories of large healing meetings that resemble a WWF Ultimate Challenge on pay-per-view. I sympathize with all who are troubled by the theological deficiencies and goofy practices present in the charismatic movement. This stuff disturbs me as well. One reason it disturbs me is that it reflects a disregard for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
So let there be no misunderstanding: as we lead our churches in their experience of the Holy Spirit, we must always uphold the unique authority of Scripture.
Scripture Is Our Final Authority
Scripture alone is our final authority in all matters of life and doctrine. And Scripture is our only basis for helping our churches to grow in their appreciation and pursuit of the Holy Spirit’s work. It is the Bible that calls us to grow in our relationship with the Spirit, to eagerly desire and practice the gifts, and to experience his power and presence. We must study Scripture carefully, and lead our churches to do the same.
A weakness to which charismatics can be prone is the tendency to put more confidence in subjective impressions and feelings than in the Bible. And you don’t have to be a charismatic to have this weakness. All of us tend to assign more authority to subjective thoughts and feelings than we should.
I am grateful for Dr. Piper’s wise teaching in this area. I still remember the first time I read his provocatively titled article, “The Morning I Heard the Voice of God.” He begins:
Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.
As soon as I read that paragraph I wondered what had taken place in the life of my good friend. Apparently something unprecedented! John does not usually write this openly about his personal experiences (for which he has my respect).
So I kept reading until I came upon this explanation:
It was through the Bible that I heard these divine words, and through the Bible I have experiences like this almost every day. . . . If you would like to hear the very same words I heard on the couch in northern Minnesota, read Psalm 66:5–7. That is where I heard them. O how precious is the Bible. . . . This is the very voice of God.
John concludes, “Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God.”²
Pastors, we must not build churches in which the words we hear outside of Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to our members than the words of Scripture. The words of Scripture must always speak to us most powerfully and move us most deeply. Let us study the Bible, celebrate it, honor its unique authority, and teach our churches to understand and treasure and obey it as their final authority.
Only when we uphold the authority of Scripture can we grow in our experience and pursuit of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks to us primarily through Scripture, and never in contradiction of Scripture. And we lead our churches to grow in their relationship with the Spirit by leading them to understand, treasure, and obey the Scriptures.
This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.
¹Although it is possible that the phrase “fellowship of the Spirit” refers to fellowship among the Corinthians created by the Spirit (a genitive of source), the evidence seems to favor the interpretation chosen here. See Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 939–41.
²John Piper, “The Morning I Heard the Voice of God,” blog posted March 21, 2007.