SIGNS AND WONDERS; DON'T BELIEVE EVERY CLAIM!
Positions on the Spectacular Gifts in Today's Church
Have you wondered about 'Signs and Wonders' in the Church today?
Have you wondered about 'Gifts of the Spirit'? Should Christians
expect divine healing from every illness? How about
Cessationism? (the belief that the spectacular signs
concluded with the conclusion of the mission of 'the 70' and the
completion of the Bible canon).
s David Wells has pointed out (his book, 'God, the
Evangelist') there are really only three possible positions to
adopt on the spectacular signs, or, 'signs and wonders' in
today's Church. We will list the three, then I will make a few
comments upon each. But, first of all, it should be noted that
all of these positions allow for - and hopefully expect -
answered prayer - this includes the 'cessationist' position.
Here are the three positions:
This teaches that the spectacular Gifts ceased with, or soon
after, the time of the apostles. The more spectacular Gifts were
only given to the Church in order to celebrate Christ's arrival
and to highlight the work of the original apostles. In this way,
the name of Jesus Christ quickly gained fame; otherwise, in a
world without today's fast media communications, it would have
taken considerable time for the news of Christ to have travelled
very far. The early Church needed to quickly gain notoriety -
this is how God chose to do it! After all, news of miracles will
always travel fast! The spectacular miracles (tongues, prophecy,
outstanding healings etc) were, according to this, the Signs of
the Apostles. Before any should reject this teaching too quickly,
we should just note that the Signs of an Apostle teaching appears
to be backed up by the following Scriptures; Acts 5: 12-16, Acts
14: 3, Acts 15:12, Acts 19: 11, 2 Cor 12: 12 & Hebs 2: 3-4. But one
Scripture which has been used, 1 Cor 13: 8-10, has come under
considerable fire in recent years as not being supportive of the
position. Cessationists say the 'perfect' of 1 Cor 13: 10 refers
to the completed Bible canon, after which there would be no
further purpose in miracles. The problem, though, is that this
'perfect' appears to refer to Christ's second coming, which
obviously has not yet happened; therefore those things which
verse 8 said would cease (prophecies, tongues etc) should still
be occurring. This 'cessationist' position has had the greatest
following within the Reformed movement, but it is not correct to
say that all Reformed people hold to it - they certainly
2. The 'Faith position.'
This position would say that all the Gifts should still occur
today. After all, did not Jesus say that His followers might be
expected to do even greater works? And in Mark 16: 17-18, Jesus
appeared to expect His followers to continue to perform great
But the testimony of the 'Church Fathers' of the early centuries
is interesting here; for while they spoke of miracles still
occurring, overall they noted something of a diminution in their
frequency. The faith position would say that all of the Gifts
should still occur today but often do not because we lack faith.
This appears attractive at first, after all, did not Jesus say,
'When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith upon the earth'?
However, upon careful meditation and contemplation one can see
quite sizeable problems here! One is that upon our consideration
of the lives of great men and women of faith such as Hudson
Taylor and George Muller, one may note little or no exercising of
the spectacular Gifts.
All of us who have read about George Muller, for example (and I
am his greatest admirer) have noted some of the amazing answers
to prayer which he experienced and yet, I believe that I am
correct in saying that he only saw a very small number of divine
healings - even in his very long life of 93 years!
So we have the situation that many of the most faith-full who
have lived in comparatively modern times, have not received these
Gifts, nor apparently even seen the need of them.
Secondly, this position has led to enormous judging of one
Christian by another within congregations. If one is not
dramatically healed upon anointing by a 'healing evangelist' is
this necessarily because one lacks faith?
Thirdly, this position - in actual practise - promotes Gifts to a
status which they simply do not enjoy in the New Testament. This
position has been the classic Pentecostal/charismatic position.
And yet, it is encouraging that an increasing number of these
groups are now starting to distance themselves from it. The
position - taken to an extreme - has been the classic 'health,
wealth and prosperity gospel' approach. Within this schema, faith
is hijacked from the biblical model and becomes something which
requires God to give us everything we want, whether it is
ever-radiant health, financial affluence or that spectacular Gift
to impress fellow-believers! If we do our bit, then God
must act! The approach also appears to be overly concerned
with the 'here and now'- yet, biblically, we are encouraged to
look to eternity.
In fact, biblically faith is very much tied up with God's
sovereignty and His choice in that. Sometimes we may want
something but His answer is No; just as it was when Paul wanted
to be healed of his famous 'thorn in the flesh'.
Finally, this 'faith' position toward the spectacular Gifts has
sometimes led to a demanding approach where God is begged to
'send down' the Gifts - these people rarely seem interested in
those less spectacular gifts such as knowledge, faith, giving,
teaching and encouragement although they greatly outnumber the
showy Gifts in the various New Testament lists of the Gifts. But
the apostle Paul seems to make it clear that it is God - not us -
who decides which Gift goes where!
3. The balanced approach.
The balanced approach would avoid extremes and insist on
recognising God's complete sovereignty in whether or not He might
allow a miracle to occur, or any spectacular Gift in any
particular scenario. Indeed we might term this 'balanced
approach' a biblical approach. It would question the
categoricalism of the first two approaches. One might say that
these Gifts can occur today in scenarios in which the Lord wills
them to occur, but it is entirely within His jurisdiction.
Neither can we ever demand any particular Gift; perhaps it is the
Lord's will that we are equipped with a quieter Gift! Any talk of
'claiming the promises on faith' must take full account of all
scriptural teaching - not just favourite bits!
God alone decides where the more spectacular Gifts are needed for
the equipping of the Body of Christ. This third position is,
perhaps, mid way between the extremes of the first two, and
concerned to avoid their extremes.
God has obviously granted some of these Gifts afresh during
periods of Revival as even most Reformed people will admit. But
then, it appears, suddenly withdrawn them again - we cannot
question His decision and choice in this.
There is also very strong evidence that the Gifts are granted
wherever God considers the proclamation of the gospel to be going
into new areas for the first time! This would certainly explain
some of the miracles we have heard about when the gospel has been
taken into fresh areas of places like China and Nepal!! We at
Museltof wholeheartedly support this third position as being
eminently sensible. It also means that we can say that positions
1 and 2 are not wholly incorrect, just somewhat biblically
unbalanced. For example, the teaching that the early spectacular
miracles were the 'Signs of an Apostle' appears to be backed up
by Scripture (Acts 5: 12-16. Acts 14: 3. Acts 19: 11. 2 Cor 12:
12. & Hebs 2: 3-4.) How else would the name of Christ have
spread so quickly?
Yet this is not to say that some of the more spectacular Gifts
can never re-occur, in fact most would agree that they have; some
would say only in periods of Revival, many others would say
rather more often than that - but only where God has granted
On the 'faith' side, one might say that a lack of faith is indeed
occasionally a problem, but perhaps not the problem that some of
the more extreme charismatic 'healing evangelists' would insist!
Maybe some of these guys - who have frequently built up quite a
following, should go back and carefully and prayerfully
reconsider some of the Scriptures which they have thrown at
people! No, I don't cast them all together, but I have
occasionally been very concerned at things which one has been
A very experienced Pentecostal minister, now retired, told me
privately that during his long ministry he had seen some 'Gifts'
which were emotionally induced and he knew of other
manifestations which he strongly suspected were due to demonic
activity!! Yes, he also saw a few that he believed were genuine.
This came from a vastly experienced Pentecostal minister!!
We are to 'try the spirits', we really do need to be careful.
So when people ask me if God heals today, I say, Yes, but we see
a reduced, or restricted healing ministry. Yes, I have prayed for
people and seen them dramatically healed at times but God does
not treat me like the apostle Peter where his very shadow falling
over sick people caused them all to be healed! Why? Because I am
not the apostle Peter!! Let us employ a little humility in
recognising some of these things!
Moreover, to stage a 'healing meeting' in which a few hundred
people are invited and to announce to them, 'Tonight you can all
be healed - but only if you have enough faith!' is - to me - the
very height of spiritual irresponsibility! It is also inexcusable
since it betrays a somewhat restricted understanding of
Scripture. Too restricted, perhaps, for one to have set oneself
up as a 'leader'! One may also imagine that the collection
baskets are soon passed around!
Frankly, brothers and sisters in Christ, such behaviour by a few
has brought terrible shame on all of us who call ourselves by the
name of Christ!!
In bringing this to a close, I wish to quote some very wise words
from G.C. Berkhouwer and Adrio Konig. The words come from Konig's
'The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology';
"In the past it was too glibly taught by some that 'the age of
miracles is past' and the miracles occurred in the first century
to effect a rapid and thorough establishment of the Church...G.C.
Berkhouwer has gone into this in depth and shown what was the
legitimate motive for miracles; they were aimed at founding and
extending the Church throughout the world. He levels severe
criticism at overzealous attempts 'in faith' to exert power which
cannot with certainty be identified with the triumphant
revelation of God's kingdom. He also, on the other hand,
repudiates the restriction of miracles to the first centuries. We
find nothing in Scripture to suggest a specific age of miracles
and a specific age without them. The numerous signs which
followed Pentecost should make us cautious about setting
boundaries to God's wonderful deeds... there is nothing in the
New Testament to prevent God from making use of miracles and
signs today in order to extend and establish the Church. He who
genuinely believes that miracles no longer happen, must ask
himself if he takes God's power seriously or has secretly
capitulated to determinism... it is therefore wrong in principle
to deny their possibility or to neglect asking the Lord for them.
Yet it is clear from Acts and the rest of the New Testament
witness after Pentecost that things may take a more natural
course. This does not suggest that Jesus' working through the
Spirit has been discontinued; simply that He is working in more
ways than miracles only...we must recognise that the Spirit
distributes His Gifts separately to each individual 'as He wills'
(1 Cor 12: 11) - and that we cannot demand miracles as if they
were God's only way of dealing with our problems! We must respect
the Lord's freedom to give the Church those Gifts and miracles
which He sees fit"
(The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology, Konig, p156, pub;Marshall,
Morgan & Scott, 1989)
There is one book which we would strongly recommend on healing,
discussing such matters as anointing with oil, it is
'Miraculous Healing' by Henry W. Frost. First published in
1931 but reprinted in 1999 by Christian Focus (UK). Try to get a
Robin A. Brace
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