This article is seeking to provide a faithful rendering of the Scriptures. I intend to define the doctrinal dispute and show that God does perform miracles today but not through ‘miracle workers’. A miracle being a supernatural event such as turning a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.
My assumption is that our omnipotent Living God, Yahweh, can do as He pleases. Scripture attests that His miraculous works continue today, at the very least, in saving unbelievers. However, for the purpose of this article I will define miracles such as those seen in three distinctive biblical eras: Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostolic eras.
The doctrinal issue under question is continuism versus cessationism. A cessationist says that the Apostolic gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing (by nature all miraculous) ceased at the death of the Apostles. Those Apostles were appointed to establish the Church, Matthew 10:2,3, 16:18 and are defined as those personally appointed by Jesus Christ, 1 Timothy 1:1. Cessationists understand apostolic gifts passed away with the establishment of the Church , that being the spotless bride of Christ, Revelation 19:7,9, Ephesians 5:25,27. We are now desiring higher spiritual gifts and a more excellent way, 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1, but what is this excellent way and these higher gifts?
The Continuist makes the case that these gifts are tongues, prophecy, signs and wonders, as seen in the apostolic era. Furthermore, they do not recognise that the Apostolic era has finished, 1 Corinthians 12:28. Today men and women assume the office of Prophet and Apostle; Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua (TB Joshua), Thomas Dexter popularly called T. D. Jakes, etc. The Latter Day Saints claim to have modern prophets that follow in the line of Joseph Smith. The Pope as one who can speak, Ex Cathedra, and can speak infallibly, is by inference a continuist.
Paul dedicated an extended portion of his letter to the Corinthians to gifts, particularly tongues. Important texts for the continuist includes 1 Corinthians 12: 4,10, 28, 1 Corinthians ch 14:1, 5, 18. When Paul wrote this letter the New Testament scriptures had not been completed. However, with the Canon closed and the Bible being a progressive revelation we may, by spirit guided exegeses of the bible ‘speak prophetically’. Does this direct us to understanding the meaning of seeking the higher gifts? Does this help us understand why such emphasis is placed on maintaining sound doctrine in the Pastoral Epistles, dividing the Word with care, and calling out false teaching, Romans 16:17? This would lead me to believe that the higher gifts are interpreting the word, 1 Cor 2:10, teaching 2 Tim 3:15,17, speaking prophetically through scripture, proclaiming the Gospel – sharing the love of christ.
Texts to support the continuists position include: Joel 2:28, Mark 16:18, Acts 2:17. Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry is a continuist. He quotes Romans 14:5 to support his claim that this is a non-essential issue . And says: “Interestingly, 1 Cor. 1:7 may be consulted, It says, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word here for “revealed” is apokalupsis. It means the apocalypse, the return of Jesus. In both this verse and 1 Cor. 13:8-13 the gifts, which aren’t differentiated as to kind, are connected to the return of Christ not the completion of the Bible. One more thing, the word gift in the Greek is charisma. This is where we get the word ‘charismatic.”
Miracles allow Prophets and Apostles to Authenticate their Appointments
Christ’s signs convinced Nicodemus, recorded in John 3:2, that Christ was from God. A contextual reading of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles helps us understand the purpose of miracles. In Acts 5 we see that it is by the hands of the Apostles that signs and wonders are regularly undertaken. We see that a multitude of men and women became believers at that time and people are brought for healing to the Apostles. There is no indication that as a result of their belief they too went home to continue with miraculous healing.
Given the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, John 14:17, and Christ’s promise that whatever you ask in my name it shall be given, Matthew 18:19, and 21:22 and Mark 11:24, surely can I not invoke the miraculous through the power of prayer? I too can take on the mantle of healer, speaking in the name of Jesus Christ.
First let’s consider the role of the person of the Holy Spirit, why was He sent? Christ says He is sending a helper. We are also explicitly told the Spirit’s role of convicting people of sin thereby showing them their need to be saved from their condemnation under the law John 16:8. This is reiterated in Acts 5 where we see the person of the Holy Spirit, as a witness to Christ’s exalted position at the right hand of the Father. We see how it is the indwelling gift from God the Father, who allows the believer to be a faithful witness to the saving work of God the Son.
So this power we see is not to undertake miracles it is in fact a power to go, a power to proclaim and a power to overcome the trials, anguish and persecution that comes from being a follower of Christ, Matthew 5:11. We must treat with determined caution those who would offer demonstrations of godly powers through miracles. When the Devil himself challenged Jesus Christ he used Scripture, Psalm 91 but went no further than verse 12, knowing that verse 13 echoed the protogilion, “..and the serpent you will crush under foot.” Christ rebuked him saying not to put the Lord your God to the test. The man who would claim to be working miracles on behalf of God is in a fearful place if he remains unrepentant when death seizes upon him.
Christ is inviting faithful prayers. He knows that the born again believer with a contrite heart is seeking unity with his Lord. He is providing disciplinary authority to those he has commissioned to go and make disciples. Moreover, He is offering assurance that prayers are answered. We only need see our Lord’s anguish and prayers at Gethsemane, Stephen’s prayers as he is being stoned or know the fate of any of the Apostles to realize that this is not an invite to summon up enough faith to work a miracle but to enjoy the faith that comes through belief. It was Jesus’ will to see the Father glorified, John 12:28 ,and that will be the will of the born again follower who believes his Lord.
Continuism is the bedfellow of limited assurance, offering experiences as evidence of trust in the promises of God. The Israelites moulded a golden calf, the Pharisees wanted signs and the fickle crowd hounded Christ. In the same way the continuist leads his narrative with anecdote, and experience as an outward sign of his inward spirituality. It is within the continuist community that I meet those whose assurance of salvation rests on little more than walking an aisle, signing a prayer card, getting baptized or groaning in the spirit. The primary difficulty for the continuist is discerning if the workers of great signs and wonders Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:24 are wolves or shepherds. How do they identify the lawless one, 2 Thessalonians 2:9?
Continusists are fond of anecdote, making experience of God at work in people’s lives as a means of corroborating their position. However, if scripture is sufficient why bother? It is the Gospel that is the power unto salvation, Romans 1:16, not signs, 1 Corinthians 1:22,23. Jesus said they have Moses and the prophets, they’re not going to believe even if someone is raised from the dead, Luke 16:31. Moreover, their position has a profound difficulty, for if I as a cessation tell them I have a word from the Lord telling them that their position is wrong they have no basis for contention!
It is the Holy Spirit who keeps us orientated on Christ. For in addition to helper in time of persecution, the Holy Spirit helps us understand His written word. The Holy Spirit will be with us that we may never forget it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom and that if we stray from our Father’s House our diet will be nothing but indigestible pigs’ fodder. In so doing He will point us to Christ and bring us to our knees in glad and penitent worship. The cessationist knows his Jeremiah 17:9 heart, and knows the Genesis 6:5 proclivities of man. God is no longer performing miracles through His prophets and Apostles but He is still performing the miracle of turning rebellious hearts of stone to repentant hearts of flesh .
PS. Finding myself in a different camp doctrinally to a theologian like Matt slick, who I respect and trust is interesting. However, as christians we learn to disagree, agreeably, and in issues that are non-essential be prepared to, dare I say it, change!