Reader questions make me do a double-take sometimes! This is one of them. How to answer?
Two things up front: First, even though I was raised in a Presbyterian church I have never considered myself strictly Reformed. Second, one of my favorite Reformed pastors has experienced a miraculous cure of cancer, so my Reformed friends aren’t particularly ‘traditional’ either.
So I’m probably not the best person to be representing Reformed theology, but I’ll give it a shot. Reformed theology has traditionally taught that the spiritual gifts ended with the Apostles, particularly the miraculous ones listed in I Corinthians 12. However there is a small but growing number of Reformed theologians (Presbyterians in particular) who acknowledge and teach the spiritual gifts.
I think the main reason the Reformed tradition has stood against modern use of spiritual gifts is because of its strong belief in the sovereignty of God. The Reformed tradition teaches that the greatest miracle is conversion itself. THE foundational Reformed belief is that people are saved by grace alone through faith alone, which comes by hearing the Word, not through signs or miracles.
Thus far I agree completely and wholeheartedly with the Reformers. But having said this much, the Reformed tradition then tends to see anything that distracts one’s attention from the Word — such as signs and wonders — as somewhat suspect, or an attempt to usurp God’s sovereign power.
In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. Spiritual gifts are gifts, abilities that God gives believers in order to serve others and build up His church. We don’t usurp them, He wants us to have them and use them to benefit others.
Here’s my story, for what it’s worth. Having been raised in the Reformed tradition, growing up I wasn’t taught about the gifts of the Spirit or how to recognize them. When, in my mid-20s, I was confronted with an Episcopal priest who used the gifts in his everyday life, without a word of warning, as simply and straightforwardly as you might remark about the weather, I was floored. “Amazed and perplexed” as Luke said of the crowd in Acts chapter 2. My reaction was just like those people who witnessed the first Pentecost: “what’s going on? what does this mean?” And like them, I felt compelled to get to the bottom of what I was seeing. Here it was, 20 years after my conversion, and I was only just beginning to understand how to go about living the Christian life — to place myself completely in God’s hands and say “do what You will” and feel His love and power and wisdom flowing to others through my life. His work, not mine.
What the Reformers miss is this: it is impossible to live a Christian life in one’s own power. It is impossible to please God without the Spirit. In a sense they get it — “it’s all His doing, not ours” is a very Reformed belief. What they miss is “it’s all His doing” = “He is in us”. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, God-within-us, living in us, working through us.
Which all sounds very mystical. And in a way it is, in the same sense that communion is mystical. There’s something to it that can’t be described in language and can’t be explained by reason, it can only be experienced.
So if you ask if it’s possible to have both Reformed theology and miraculous healing, the answer is “yes” — just ask my pastor-friend. Personally I think the Anglican approach is easier because you can start from the assumption that miracles do still happen and you don’t have to feel compelled to explain 400 years of Reformed theology first.
But it’s up to you which approach you prefer. Just don’t miss it.