In this series, we are exploring the 4 schools of thought within Christiandom concerning signs & wonders. The main question is: Did the ability to perform signs & wonders end with the apostles?
Last week, we looked at “cessationism.” This is the view that, yes, the ability to perform signs & wonders ended with the apostles. In other words, this ability (or gift) only existed during the formative years of the church. The purpose of signs & wonders was to authenticate the apostles as divine spokespersons until such time as the New Testament was written.
This week, we’ll look at the Pentecostal/Charismatic view.
Pentecostals/Charismatics reject cessationism and maintain instead that the ability to perform signs & wonders is a continuing gift within Christianity. In other words, the gift of performing signs & wonders is no different than any other spiritual gift.
Those who ascribe to this view argue there is simply no biblical warrant for suggesting the termination of signs & wonders. Indeed, the Old Testament promises that signs & wonders will be a characteristic of the “last days” and this means the entirety of the last days, not just a portion of them.
(Note: From a biblical perspective, the “last days” began with Jesus’ 1st coming and will culminate with His 2nd coming. Virtually every scholar agrees with this definition of the “last days.”)
John Deere represents the Pentecostal/Charismatic well when he writes:
“No one ever just picked up the Bible, started reading, and then came to the conclusion that God was not doing signs and wonders anymore and that [certain] gifts of the Holy Spirit had passed away. The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures. The doctrine of cessationism originated from experience [i.e., derived from the apparent absence or scarcity of signs & wonders throughout Christian history].”
Concerning experience, Pentecostals/Charismatics will point out that signs & wonders have indeed existed throughout the history of the church, although mostly confined to areas being evangelized for the first time, or to where a revival has sprung up after a lengthy dearth of evangelism. Therefore, it’s just not accurate to insist signs & wonders ceased; the relative scarcity of them is a different matter entirely.
The view that signs & wonders continued beyond the apostles is a strong one.* They certainly subsided (after the apostles), but that’s different than arguing they ended entirely. We also need to separate out the abuse of the gift versus the gift itself. It’s true there are charlatans who pretend to have the gift, but that doesn’t mean the gift doesn’t exist any longer.
Next week: The Third Wave view
*This shouldn’t be interpreted as an endorsement of all Pentecostal/Charismatic theology. I believe they are profoundly wrong on certain matters.
In our study of Acts, we learned that the early church prayed for “signs & wonders” and God provided them. The main questions are: Should we also pray for signs & wonders? And, if so, will God provide them?
As mentioned last week, there are 4 major schools of thought within Christiandom on this matter. But, before we consider each of them, let’s back up a bit.
What is a Miracle?
We tend to use the word “miracle” a lot. Virtually anything that causes us to marvel is called a “miracle.” Even ordinary events, such as the birth of a child, are sometimes described as miraculous.
We should try to be more precise. In Christian theology, a miracle is:
1) An extraordinary event, inexplicable in terms of ordinary natural forces; and/or
2) An event that causes observers to propose a direct supernatural cause.
What are Signs & Wonders?
Signs & wonders are miracles through a human agent FOR THE PURPOSE OF authenticating that person as God’s representative or spokesperson and demonstrating to unbelievers God’s omnipotence, especially with regard to either judgment or salvation (or both).
In Acts, the twelve apostles (and a handful of designees) were able to perform signs & wonders. The question is whether this ability extends BEYOND the apostles.
The Cessationist View
The first view (or school of thought) we’ll consider is called cessationism.
Cessationists believe God performs miracles, but the ability of human beings to perform signs & wonders ended with the apostles.
In other words, they believe this was a temporary gift (or ability) within the church during its formative years in order to authenticate the apostles and their message. Once the church was established and the New Testament was compiled, God no longer gave the ability to perform signs & wonders.
Support for the Cessationist Position
1. In the New Testament, the ability to perform sign & wonders was limited to the apostles and a few of their close associates. One author writes: “The early church was not a miracle-working church. Rather, they were a church with miracle-working apostles.”
2. The signs & wonders the apostles performed were limited to two types: casting out demons and physical healing. They didn’t perform the full range of miracles that Jesus did, such as walking on water, feeding 5,000 with a few loaves & fish, etc.
3. In every recorded instance of the gift of healing in Acts, it is unbelievers who are healed. In other words, the gift wasn’t used on behalf of the church (Christians suffering from illness), but rather as a sign to unbelievers and as an aid to evangelism.
4. The healings performed by the apostles had certain characteristics not found in many so-called faith healers today.
a. The healing was of a grave, organic condition and could not be regarded as a psychosomatic cure.
b. The healing took place by a direct word of command in the name of Christ without the use of any medical means.
c. The healing was instantaneous, not gradual.
d. The healing was complete and permanent, not partial or temporary.
e. The healing was publicly acknowledged to be indisputable; there was no doubt or question about it.
5. The writings of the post-apostolic church fathers don’t mention the performance of signs & wonders. Thus, the gift or ability appears to have ended with the apostles.
Next week: The Charismatic/Pentecostal view
On March 3, The Shack will be in theatres. This movie is based on the book by Paul Young, published in 2007. To date, the book has sold over 22 million copies, making it a huge bestseller.
The book (which I have read) is unambiguously theological; that means, it was clearly written with the intent of teaching about God and presenting Him a certain way. I assume the movie will be similar to the book in that regard.
What is Good about the Book?
§ It is a compelling story about a man whose young daughter was kidnapped & murdered.
§ It wrestles with the problem of evil and offers hope to those overwhelmed by tragedy.
§ It presents God as a Triune Being – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
§ It portrays God as all-powerful, all-knowing & all-good. He is compassionate and warm toward those who are suffering.
What is Problematic about the Book?
A lot! But, to keep this article relatively short, I’ll mention four major shortcomings.*
First, The Shack has a subversive quality to it. It is critical of many aspects of the church and Christianity. The author (Paul Young) professes to be a Christian, but according to Randy Alcorn, who interviewed him for 6 hours, he doesn’t attend church. His disdain of the church is fairly evident in the book.
Second, The Shack diminishes the importance of the Bible. Greater emphasis is placed on God’s revelation by other means, much of it mystical & totally subjective (e.g., supposed direct communication via a person’s thoughts and/or feelings).
Third, The Shack implies universalism, the eventual salvation of everyone. The book quotes God the Father saying everyone has been reconciled to Him and He doesn’t punish anyone for their sin.
Fourth, The Shack is contrary to Scripture with regard to the Trinity. There are several things I would mention here:
§ God the Father & God the Holy Spirit are both depicted in human form. This is a breaking of the 3rd Commandment.
§ God the Father is called Papa (good), but is portrayed as a woman (odd).
§ The book expressly denies the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Holy Spirit to the Son.
§ Papa (God the Father) claims to have also died on the cross and has scars on her wrists to prove it. This is an ancient heresy known as ‘modalism.”
§ God the Father denies having forsaken the Son on the cross; the Son only felt forsaken.
§ The human (Mack) exhibits no sense of awe at being in the presence of God. He basically interacts with God as an equal.
§ God is presented one-dimensionally. There’s no mention of what theologians call his “hard” attributes (righteousness, justice, wrath, holiness); only his “soft” ones (compassion, kindness, mercy, love).
This last item is particularly important.
Christians who are grounded in the Bible, will recognize that the book (or movie) is focusing on God’s soft attributes and will benefit from being reminded of them. However, those who aren’t grounded in the Bible, will come away from the book (or movie) with a false picture of God.
During the time he spent with Paul Young, Randy Alcorn urged him to present a more balanced view of God when the book was reprinted, but Mr. Young refused to do so.
*Adapted from a review of The Shack by Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.
In this series, we’ve been considering & analyzing the practice of attributing what we think, feel or do to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Almost all Christians do this to some degree.
Most Christians also ask the Holy Spirit to reveal HIS WILL on various matters of life, usually through circumstances or our feelings. It is assumed then, that once He does so, we will follow or obey it.
The question is:
Is this what the Bible teaches us to do? Are we to ask and then expect the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what He wants us to do in a particular matter or situation?
Of course, we can always ask the Holy Spirit to do something, but it is exceedingly rare for Him to reveal to us HIS WILL on a particular matter. Instead, the Bible says we are to make our own decisions and choices ACCORDING TO WISDOM (see especially Ephesians 5:15-16).
JI Packer defines wisdom as . . .
I Corinthians 7 provides the clearest instruction on how Christians are to go about making decisions.
The instruction comes in the context of a discussion about marriage and what is noteworthy is the apostle Paul’s use of the words “good” and “better.” Instead of encouraging a single Christian to pray for God’s will (or the leading of the Holy Spirit) on a decision about marriage, he speaks in terms of doing what is “good” or “better.” He even mentions making a decision based upon what will make you “happier” (7:39-40).
Bottom line: What we are to seek in non-commanded decisions is not the revelation of God’s will, but for God-given wisdom. (“Non-commanded decisions” are those that Scripture does not explicitly require or prohibit. For example, Scripture neither requires nor prohibits marriage; we are free to make our own decision, so long as the person we marry is a fellow believer.)
Sources of Wisdom
There are four main sources of wisdom:
2. Outside research
3. Wise counselors
I’ve been writing about the practice of attributing what we think, feel or do (or not do) to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians do this a lot (with nearly everything); while others, probably the majority, do so only on occasion.
The Traditional View
Dr. Garry Friesen spent a career studying what is commonly taught & believed in the Christian community with regard to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He has identified a so-called “traditional view “that I summarized in last weeks’ article. He believes this view is deeply flawed and isn’t taught or modeled in Scripture. I suspect some of us bristled when we read his critique. If you’ve forgotten, go back & read last weeks’ article.
The Way of Wisdom
What IS taught & modeled in Scripture, Friesen argues, is what he calls “the way of wisdom.” Just like the traditional view, it has 4 main ideas:
1. Where God specifically commands something in His Word, we must obey.
2. Where there is NO command, God gives us the freedom AND RESPONSIBILTIY to make our own choice.
3. In such cases (no command), what God gives us WISDOM to choose well.
4. Once we have chosen what is moral & wise, we must trust God to work all the details together for good (Romans 8:28).
The way of wisdom is best summed up by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:15-16:
“Therefore, be careful how you walk [i.e., how you live your life], not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Friesen goes on to demonstrate that the way of wisdom is modeled throughout Scripture, except on those RARE occasions when God gives supernatural guidance to certain persons at critical points during the formative years of the church. Friesen emphasizes the rarity of these occasions. One of the problems with the traditional view (and the “belief system” of many Christians) is the expectation of regular, if not constant supernatural guidance via the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Holy Spirit telling us what to do).
If Friesen is right, we can stop trying to ascertain how the Holy Spirit is “leading” us (a highly frustrating & subjective endeavor) and focus instead on acquiring wisdom. Which leads to the question:
How do we acquire wisdom for our decisions and choices?
We’ll take that up next week.
Last week, I wrote about the practice of attributing what we think, feel or do (or not do) to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve known Christians who attribute nearly EVERTYHING to the Holy Spirit (example: “the Holy Spirit told me to call you today”), while others (probably the majority) attribute only certain things, such as the choice of a spouse, vocation or some other major life decision.
The article sparked some feedback, so I’ll continue with the topic.
The Traditional View
Dr. Garry Friesen, a now-retired Professor of Bible & Theology at Multnomah Bible College, spent a career studying what is commonly taught & believed in the Christian community with regard to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Friesen calls what MOST Christians believe (or been taught) “the traditional view.” Here it is in a nutshell:
Premise: For each or our decisions, God has a perfect plan or will.
Purpose: Our goal is to discover God’s plan or will and to make decisions in accordance with it.
Process: God expects us to correctly interpret the inner impressions (feelings) and outward signs (circumstances) through which the Holy Spirit communicates His leading.
Proof: The confirmation that we have correctly discerned the will of God comes from an inner sense of peace and outward (successful) results of the decision.
“Selah” is a Hebrew word that basically means “stop & think.”
Look at each of the four points above. Isn’t this what you’ve been told or taught? Isn’t this what you believe & try to practice, at least with regard to major decisions?
If so, how is it working for you? And even more important, is this what the BIBLE says we should believe & do?
Dr. Friesen makes a powerful & compelling argument that “the traditional view” is deeply flawed for three main reasons: (1) it doesn’t work very well in practice; (2) it is deeply frustrating and anxiety-inducing; and (3) it’s not taught in Scripture.
In fact, as to the latter, Friesen says there’s not a single example in Scripture of a decision being made in the manner outlined by the traditional view!
So, where does that leave us?
Next week, I’ll summarize what Dr. Friesen says the Bible actually teaches on this subject.
“The Spirit is leading me to…”
In this series, we’ve been considering some of the things that we Christians tend to say.
One of the more common is for a Christian to attribute what he or she is thinking, feeling or doing (or about to do) to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In fact, “listening to the Holy Spirit” (and doing what He says) seems to be a popular topic in Christian circles today. I’ve heard some Christians attribute nearly everything, including what they chose to eat for breakfast, to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
What is Helpful about This Phrase?
The phrase is helpful in that it signifies that the Christian is aware of the the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and takes that presence seriously.
Moreover, the Bible speaks of “leading” (or guiding) as one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit. For example:
“But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)
“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Galatians 5:18)
There are also examples in the Bible of God giving specific direction to specific individuals about what it is He wants them to do. Theologians refer to this as “special revelation.”
What is Problematic about This Phrase?
The practice of attributing what one thinks, feels or does to the “leading” of the Holy Spirit is much-abused today and represents, I believe, a significant misunderstanding among many Christians as to the role of the Holy Spirit in their life.
Feelings or inner impressions are tricky things and can have any number of sources. I think most people would agree with that.
How then does a Christian know when the source is the Holy Spirit? (I’m talking about those decisions or courses of actions about which there is no clear command in Scripture.)
The answer is we don’t . . . which means we should be extremely careful about attributing our feelings or inner impressions to the Holy Spirit and thus investing them with a false authority.
Recommended resource: Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen
The Haiti mission team will report on their trip this Sunday during both services. It will focus on the various construction projects that were completed. What I’ll do here is report on what I did during the trip since I was only with the team in the evenings.
I had the privilege of preaching at our host church. There were several thousand worshippers in attendance; the auditorium was completely full – including the wrap-around balcony. I preached from Revelation 21, which includes God’s description of the new heaven & new earth.
I spent the day at the Baptist seminary near Cap-Haitien and then met with the lay preachers’ team in the late afternoon. This team is comprised of those who go to the various “preaching stations” surrounding Cap-Haitien in order to conduct chapel services. The team meets every Monday for training with Pastor Voltaire.
I did a lot of teaching & training -- from 9 AM until 3 PM. My students were the lay preachers mentioned above, plus others in the church with teaching responsibilities. I had exactly 50 students; about 25 men & 25 women. My translator was Pastor Enel Jonki, who has translated for me the past 3 years.
The morning sessions were geared toward training. The topics included:
§ Tuesday: The 6 Requirements of a Preacher or Teacher
§ Wednesday: Distinguishing between Law & Gospel in Your Preaching & Teaching
§ Thursday: Ministering to the Suffering through Preaching & Teaching
In the afternoon sessions (plus Friday), I did an abbreviated series on the book of Revelation. Wow – did this spark a lot of interest! The last 30 minutes were always devoted to questions and the Q&A could easily have gone on much longer.
On Friday, the group presented me with a nice plaque, which reads:
Presented to Pastor Daniel Hawn:
For his devotion and his tremendous contribution
to the spiritual growth of our leaders
from January 17 to January 20, 2017.
As you can tell, our brothers & sisters in Haiti are very appreciative of our service to them. I want to thank YOU for making it possible for me to go!
In this series, we’re thinking critically about some of our “sayings” as Christians; to evaluate their strengths & weaknesses. This week, it’s “America is a Christian nation.”
What is Helpful about This Phrase?
When we use this phrase, it DOESN’T mean that America officially embraces Christianity as the state religion; the Constitution specifically prohibits that. Nor does the phrase mean that all of the Founding Fathers were necessarily committed Christians. Several of the most important Founding Fathers were certainly not.
What the phrase DOES mean is that America was founded on the principles (particularly moral ones) laid out in the Christian worldview, even though not all of the Founding Fathers (or citizens) were Christians.
Thus, the phrase attempts to capture some historical truths about our country and how it was conceived.
This is important because the current trend in our culture is to portray Christian thinking & values as fundamentally un-American and worthy of condemnation. However, even the most superficial familiarity with America’s founding reveals such sentiments as profoundly misguided.
The problem is that many Americans don’t know the history of our nation – at least not the true history.
What is Problematic about This Phrase?
The phrase becomes problematic when we blend Church & State together and fail to distinguish between them. History demonstrates this is never good for Christianity over the long run.
One theologian writes:
“To be clear, there is nothing wrong with loyalty and commitment and even excitement about one’s own country. Indeed, it is commendable. But, that can never override the fact that, as Christians, we are fundamentally citizens of a different country, a heavenly one.”
One of the things we learned in our recent study of Revelation is that the merging of the State with religion (or vice versa) will be one of the characteristics of the Last Days. Insofar as the Bible predicts a great apostasy (or falling away from the faith) suggests Christianity will be complicit in this.
This means that one of the Church’s greatest challenges going forward will be to STAY SEPARATE from the State. This will become increasingly difficult as the State puts more pressure on Christians to compromise and to look to the State for the meeting of our needs.
Quoting the same theologian:
“So, in the end, America is a nation founded on Christian principles and ideas. But, it is not a theocracy, nor is Christianity the national religion, nor are all its citizens Christians. So, it is a Christian nation in certain ways, but not in others. And Christians must walk that narrow and dangerous boundary in between.
Adapted from an article on the Canon Fodder website.
In this series, we’re considering some of our Christian “sayings” that aren’t necessarily in the Bible. So far, we’ve looked at the following:
“Ask Jesus into your heart”
“All sins are equal in God’s sight”
The saying we’ll focus on today is: “God is always pleased with you.”
What is Helpful about This Phrase?
Most significantly, this phrase is often shorthand for the doctrine of imputation. This doctrine maintains that, as part of our salvation, God imputes (attributes or assigns) to us the righteousness of Christ, so that HIS righteousness becomes our own. Thus, when God looks at us, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son.
This is one of the most beautiful doctrines of the Christian faith!
The phrase is also offered as an antidote for persons who have grown up hearing or believing that God is perpetually ticked-off with them; that He’s constantly disappointed or irritated with their behavior, attitude, or whatever. Unfortunately, that’s how God is presented in many homes & churches, and “no, God is always pleased with you” can be a way to correct that.
What is Problematic about This Phrase?
There are three main problems with this phrase:
1. The phrase flatly contradicts the Bible. God most certainly is NOT always pleased with His children. After David’s sin with Bathsheba, the Bible tells us: “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (II Samuel 11:27).
2. The phrase can be used to downplay legitimate guilt & sorrow over sin. We naturally want to comfort someone who confesses their sin, but not by suggesting their sin is no big deal.
3. The phrase confuses justification and sanctification.
This 3rd problem requires a bit more explanation . . .
Justification occurs at the moment of salvation and is God’s declaration that the sinner is now and forever righteous in His sight (due to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness).
Sanctification, on the other hand, is the continuing work of God in the life of the believer, making him or her actually holy. The word “holy” here means bearing an actual likeness to Christ in terms of our behavior, speech, attitude, etc.
As to God being pleased with us, this is how one theologian puts it:
God is pleased with us in justification (because of the righteousness of Christ), but He is not necessarily pleased with us in terms of our sanctification.
The theologian writes:
“It is analogous to the way parents think of their children. No matter what my son does, he will always be my son and I will love him (justification), but I am still concerned with his behavior and will give him loving discipline (sanctification).”
A Better Way?
I think this is a phrase we need to avoid. Instead, we need to do the harder work of making a proper distinction between justification & sanctification.
For a fellow believer overwhelmed with sin, we ought not downplay the sin, but assure him or her of God’s forgiveness through Christ.
Source: Article adapted from an article on the Canon Fodder website.