A Reformed Response to Third Wave Pentecostalism

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To define a Reformed way to engage so-called “third wave Pentecostalism,” Synod 2009 recommended two reports to Christian Reformed churches.

A main report describes and critiques modern charismatic teachings on prayer, spiritual warfare, prophecy, healing ministries, and more.

A second report was added by those who wanted a more cautious approach in these areas.

“We thought there was value in letting the denomination see that there is not one answer to this third wave phenomenon,” said Rev. Leonard Riemersma of Classis Lake Erie. “The third wave is very fluid, and there are so many different ways to interpret many of its components.”

The counsel to churches includes:

  • warning against “any tendency to make dramatic emotional or miraculous experiences the center of the Christian life.”
  • gratitude that God performs miraculous healing, while noting that sometimes in his sovereignty God does not heal yet still manifests his love.
  • warning against misuses associated with healing ministries.
  • advice for churches to engage in scripturally sound deliverance ministry with discernment and caution.

The one issue that didn’t find full agreement between the authors of the two reports was on prophecy—specifically, whether the gift of prophecy is still in use today.

One report said prophecy is a gift the church no longer has or needs “because we now have the Scriptures in all of their perfection.”

The main report said, instead, that “prophets in the Old Testament were replaced by apostles in the New Testament. We are basically following a new understanding of prophecy.”

Elder Tobias Lewis, Classis Atlantic Northeast, said that he appreciated the report because “it didn’t put the Holy Spirit in a box.”

A survey by the report authors found that almost 40 percent of CRC pastors have engaged in training in areas associated with the third wave movement.

Perhaps the third wave’s strongest influence on the denomination, according to the report, is the Alpha study course, which 36 percent of churches use—many of these in Canada.

The Alpha course includes a section of teaching on the Holy Spirit and was written by Nicky Gumbel, who was mentored by one of the third wave’s key leaders.

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About the Author

Roxanne VanFarowe is a freelance writer who lives in the woods with her artist husband James and their five children in Hillsborough, North Carolina. They are members of Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham.