Sola Scriptura for Charismatics vs. the Madness of Mysticism

Article by K. Jentoft

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is central to living Christianity. Charismatics have emphasized the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives and see His power as what separates them from “dead religion.” It is true that the Holy Spirit must be present and active in the life of a believer; this is the very claim that the Reformers made, especially Luther. The reformers and Charismatics agree on this. They disagree, however, on something just as crucial – their understanding of how the Holy Spirit comes and how He is active in the lives of believers. This understanding of how the Holy Spirit exercises His authority in both individuals and the church is where Charismatics have wandered from the foundations of the Reformation.1 The Reformation was built upon sola scriptura which means “the authority of scripture alone.” More completely, sola scriptura asserted that the Bible as God’s written word is:

  • self-authenticating,
  • clear to the rational reader,
  • its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”),
  • sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine, teaching and guidance.

This concept was the bedrock of the Reformation and the source of the other four solas; sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone). While most Charismatics consider themselves to be believers in “sola scriptura” and have words to that effect in their church statement of faith, in practice many deny it. How? By the way in which they describe how the Holy Spirit exerts His authority in their lives and churches. Let us be clear. Both the reformers and Charismatics agree that possessing an intellectual understanding of the gospel and agreeing that it is true does not constitute saving faith. In other words, to acknowledge the authority of scriptures and the truth of gospel does not necessarily make one born again nor does that person necessarily have the Holy Spirit. Both Luther and Charismatics complain of “dead churches” that are devoid of the Holy Spirit and agree that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). But how does what is dead become alive and active in the Holy Spirit? What are the means of the Holy Spirit’s activity and power? Sola scriptura claims that the means is the scripture, the external Word written and preached. Charismatics believe that the means include internal feelings, impressions, and subjective experiences. The pursuit of the Holy Spirit through the Charismatic means is a rejection of sola scriptura and a return to the Catholic paradigm that new revelations of men are from the Holy Spirit and have authority. The goal of this article is to show that this conflict is not “new” nor is the Charismatic paradigm the result of some new “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit unique in our time. This error was not even “new” in Luther’s time five hundred years ago; it was destructive then and the repeat edition prevalent in our time continues to harm people today – and the remedy remains the same, sola scriptura.

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