New Calvinism and the Sign Gifts

Another major issue of New Calvinism involves its deficient view concerning sign gifts. While
some of them are outwardly Charismatic, others are openly sympathetic to the continuation of
sign gifts. Thankfully, there are some who maintain a cessationalist stand, though they are a
minority among the New Calvinists.

The Charismatic Calvinists

Among the New Calvinists who are openly Charismatic are the Sovereign Grace Churches and
their former President C J Mahaney. The introduction to the statement of faith of the Sovereign
Grace Churches states, “Beyond this, our statement of faith affirms the glorious sovereignty of
God over all things, … and our continuationist convictions regarding the Spirit’s ongoing
ministry in the church.” (Emphasis mine). A further look into their statement of faith
concerning the gifts of the Spirit reveals their embrace of the continuation of the sign gifts –
“With the exception of those among the apostles who were commissioned as eyewitnesses of
Christ and made recipients of normative revelation, the full range of spiritual gifts remain at
work in the church and are given for the good of the church and its witness to the world. We
are therefore to earnestly desire and practice them until Christ returns.”

C J Mahaney has since stepped down as President of the Sovereign Grace Churches and has
dissociated himself with The Gospel Coalition. Nevertheless, his influence continues today.
While there may not be practices such as demon casting, healing miracles or the preaching of
the health and wealth gospel, certain elements of charismatic worship have invaded the New
Calvinist churches. For example, in the article, The Rise of the Reformed Charismatics by Brett
McCracken in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of Christianity Today, McCracken described a service that
had “doctrinally rich, gospel-focused, Reformed preaching sandwiched between free charismatic
worship.” The worship service was described as “rollicking”, full of “energetic singing,
hundreds of hands raised, prophetic words referencing the Spirit flames, and sparks of
spontaneous prayer among strangers from different states and nations.” McCracken called it “a
different kind of fire”. It is actually “strange fire” (Lev. 10:1; Num. 3:4) that is offered before
the Lord. In fact, what these New Calvinists do is to make Charismatism more palatable by
giving a false veneer of respectability with their proclamations of being “Reformed”. This is the
deception which we must guard against within the churches of God.

C J Mahaney meanwhile continues to minister as Senior Pastor of the Sovereign Grace Church
in Louisville. His stand and teachings on continuationalism can still be found on the Internet

The Sympathetic Calvinists

To compound matters, there is a group of New Calvinists who may not openly practice
Charismatism, but remain sympathetic to the movement and its teachings of the continuation of
sign gifts. One such proponent is John Piper. Clarifying his position on the sign gifts, Piper says,
“I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31, ‘earnestly desire the higher gifts.’ And I advocate
obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:1, ‘earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you might
prophesy.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:39, ‘earnestly desire to prophesy, and
do not forbid speaking in tongues.’ I want Christians today to obey those texts.” (Emphasis mine).

To John Piper’s credit, he did expose many of the doctrinal errors and abuses among
Charismatic churches. Nevertheless, his stand that there can still be ecstatic utterances
today, and the presence of other sign gifts leaves the door wide open to Charismatism to
take foot in churches.
Similarly, Wayne Grudem, whose Systematic Theology is regarded as the de facto textbook
among New Calvinists, writes, “1 Corinthians 13:10, therefore, refers to the time of Christ’s
return and says that these spiritual gifts will last among believers until that time. This means
that we have a clear biblical statement that Paul expected these gifts to continue through the
entire church age and to function for the benefit of the church until the Lord returns.”

Sign Gifts Today?

With regards to the cessation of the sign gifts, Jeffrey Khoo, Principal of the Far Eastern
Bible College, gives a detailed explanation in his tract entitled Charismatic Tongues

“The Apostle Paul, in the first century, told the Corinthians that revelatory gifts such as
prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, will cease: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be
prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be
knowledge, it shall vanish away” (1 Cor 13:8).

“Before we discuss the cessation of tongues, let us deal with the cessation of prophecies and
knowledge. Paul said that prophecies “shall fail,” and knowledge “shall vanish away.” The
words “fail,” and “vanish away” are the same word in Greek, katargeo, which is a very
strong word of cessation. It basically means “to destroy” (cf. 1 Cor 15:24,26). The word
katargeo (to destroy) is written in the Greek passive voice. This indicates that there will be
an outside agent which will cause prophecies and knowledge to cease. What is this external
element? Verses 9- 10 give us the answer: it is “the perfect thing” (to teleion). What is this
“perfect thing?” It is the completion of the canon (i.e. the 66 books of the Bible). When Paul
wrote his epistle to the Corinthians, the New Testament was in the process of being written.
Once it is completed— the last book written—revelation will cease. All that God wants man
to know concerning Him and us is found in the Bible. It is sufficient and authoritative. It is
God’s complete and final revelation to man (2 Tim 3:16-17; Rev 22:18-19).

“How about tongues? Paul wrote that tongues “shall cease.” The word “cease” here is the
Greek pauo which means “to stop.” Unlike the gifts of prophecy, and knowledge, which
require an external force to cause their cessation, the gift of tongues will cease by itself
(Greek middle voice). It will automatically fade away in the course of time when it has
served its purpose.

“The Apostle Paul was trying to drive this point home: the sign gifts which belong to the
Apostles (2 Cor 12:12) will pass away. They are temporary gifts. The Church should not
pursue them. Christians should rather seek after these three Christian graces: “And now
abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor 13:13).
The temporariness of the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge is contrasted with the
permanency of the virtues of faith, hope, and love. It is crucial to note Paul’s three tier
argument: (1) Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will cease upon the completion of the
Bible, and passing away of the Apostles; (2) Faith, hope, and love are virtues which will
remain throughout the entire Church Age; (3) Faith and hope will be realized when Christ
returns. But the greatest of these is love because love, being a divine virtue, will remain

The Cessationalist New Calvinists

Thankfully, not all of the New Calvinist are continuationalists. One example of a cessationalist is
John MacArthur. Concerning the current trend of accepting continuationalists, MacArthur
declared, “But, I would still challenge these men to reconsider their position on the charismatic
gifts. I am convinced that the charismatic movement opened the door to more theological error
than perhaps any other factor in the twentieth century (including liberalism, psychology, and
ecumenism). That’s a bold statement, I know. But once you allow experientialism to gain a
foothold, the results are disastrous.”

Alas, MacArthur continues to fraternise with many in the New Calvinist camp, and hold weak
positions concerning certain aspects of Charismatic worship. This would be dealt with in a later
article. Nevertheless, his stand against this Charismatic wave is laudable.

Will the B-P Church Take Heed?

The issue concerning the continuation of sign gifts was an issue in the history of the B-P church.
There were those who were sympathetic to the gift of tongues as “meaningful ecstatic utterances”.
The deep disagreements led to the dissolution of the B-P Synod on October 30, 1988.
Those who went before us earnestly contended for the truth concerning the cessation of sign gifts.
Sadly, with the pervasiveness of New Calvinism, the lessons of the past seem to have been
forgotten. Will the B-P church be swept up by the wave of New Calvinism in embracing the
elements of Charismatic worship? We pray not. Time will tell. However, in the mean time,
Tabernacle BPC must ever be on guard.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew