Signs and Wonders! Normative for Today?

In a former blog post, “Has the Gospel Been Preached to All the World?”, a dear brother in Christ sent me the following comment/rebuke. Although I haven’t had enough time to fully develop my thoughts in a way I’m totally comfortable with, I thought his comments were worth a more timely response. This is what he wrote:
 
Wow, I have been having so much fun studying this material! I have believed much this way for a long time. But I have to tell you I am now very concerned because of your statements about healing. How can someone understand the Word so much and yet miss this? I get infuriated when I have leaders make statements about no healings, limbs growing out, blind eyes open, deaf ears healed. 
 
Have you been to one of the trips I have been on to Guatemala in the last 3 years where I have seen many blind eyes opened, deaf hear, bones set that were broken, kids speak that have never spoken and on and on. Above that, we have a stream of people who are healed on a regular basis just in our church.
 
Just because you have seen nothing in the area of healings, doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening all over the world today. By the way, I know of several people in Mexico that a friend has seen raised from the dead. You also don’t believe in prophetic ministry etc. That list makes me feel less confident in everything else you teach.
 
Sorry, but I have videos of my trips I have been on where people are being healed by the Lord on the video. Our last trip to Guatemala in November of 2013 there were 100’s of healings that we witnessed. We also have seen God heal (many times after family has been called in or given a heads up that their love one has days to live) cancers of all types. We have doctors say more times than we can remember, it’s a miracle, we don’t understand this etc.
 
Though I appreciated his comments, from my perspective, they turned a bit harsh. I think his statement, That list makes me feel less confident in everything else you teach lacks both balance and perspective. I’ve learned to NEVER throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Even in disagreement, we press on toward the upward call, constantly attempting to renew our minds through the Word.  And although I admittedly have plenty of blind spots, am I alone? Obtuse though I may occasionally be, I am constantly attempting to do my very best to be objective, not allowing personal experience to unduly override Biblical exegesis. In our fervor to “believe all things”, is it possible to be lead astray into the weeds of the subjective?    
 
Let me say at the outset that I think this kind gentleman has made some invalid assumptions i.e. that I believe God CANNOT heal.  Any correction with chapter and verse is welcome, but I do not believe I’ve ever written, said or even implied, that God was/is unable to do anything. If someone is healed, to ascribe that wonderful gift of God’s grace to anyone or anything other than God, would be an utter travesty.  And the Bible specifically warns against such an attempt. 
 
My position at this moment regarding the sign gifts of the Spirit (and my views are always subject to change due to the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment), is that I do not believe these gifts as manifested in the first century, are of the same nature today. When’s the last time someone was healed by a garment’s shadow? When have you seen a 4-day old dead man walk out of his tomb?  To argue that today’s recipients of God’s healing mercy, prove that the charismata as manifested throughout the transition period (AD 30-70), is normative for today, is problematic at best.
 
We live in a nation of 350,000,000. There are Christian churches on every corner, many of which would characterize themselves as “charismatic”. Does anyone find as I do, it at least a little bit curious that almost all of the miraculous signs and wonders occur abroad? We have literally thousands of weekly healing services throughout this fruited plain, and yet we are hard-pressed to document a single limb grown out, a blind man receiving sight or a deaf person hearing. Why?  Why, if this ministry of the Holy Spirit is still in operation today as it was in Jesus’ day, do we not have thousands if not millions of clearly documented cases of miraculous healing? 
 
If the “sign gifts” manifested today are of the same magnitude, scope, and intensity as those regularly manifested by Peter or Paul, there would be no room for debate. The mere fact that we have disagreements regarding all things miraculous, proves something is amiss. If it was indeed so obvious that “many blind eyes opened, deaf hear, bones set that were broken, kids speak that have never spoken,” then there would be no question. So why are there so many skeptics?  Are all the doubters simply faith-challenged?  Are those who don’t believe the gifts are normative for today, as blind as this brother thinks we are? 
 
At this juncture, let me share some personal insights, lest anyone think I am completely ignorant of that which has been spoken of by this brother. I may not have been to Guatemala but I have been in and around the world of the charismata for quite a few years. Many years ago in our small Presbyterian church, in the blink of an eye, we went from “frozen chosen” Calvinists to card-carrying ambassadors of the Holy Spirit’s new wave of power. After being convinced by Terry Fullum, an Episcopal rector from Connecticut who wrote “Miracle at Darien”, of the Holy’s Spirit’s readiness to heal and prophesy through us on command, I began to eat and drink all things charismatic.
 
Multiple times I read John Wimber’s books, “Power Healing” and “Power Evangelism”. After scouring the pages, I regularly attempted to “do the stuff”, which was John’s endearing term for blessing others with the sign gifts. The word of wisdom, word of knowledge, prophecy, tongues, and healing were all in razor-sharp focus. We (the pastor and a fellow elder) attended and participated in Vineyards “Signs and Wonders Seminars”, after which we became integrally involved in Wimber’s ministry.  In the midst of our fervor I was taken aback when John died of a massive heart attack. At the time it seemed like the irony of all ironies. 
 
We were empowered, or so we fully believed, to do even greater works than the Apostles. Nothing would stop this new move of the Holy Spirit as we could now do all things through Christ! Millions upon millions were going to be healed and converted as this “Last days” movement swept across the globe.
 
We began regular healing services modeled after Fullam and Wimber. At a Presbyterian church, no less! Talk about making us black sheep among our cessationist friends within the PCA.  And during our regular Bible studies, in addition to the consistent practice of laying on hands for physical healing, we added the component of “inner healing”, which was a concept first brought to our attention by Francis and Judith McNutt. Healing of the memories, as they called it, was a supernatural counseling process facilitated by the pray-ers but accomplished by the Holy Spirit, where God would reach back into our most painful memories, even ones only embedded in the subconscious, and He would remove the crippling emotions associated with those paralyzing memories. 
 
I remember quite vividly attending a C. Peter Wagner healing conference in Orlando, for the express purpose of learning how to more effectively channel this new wave of the Holy Spirit’s power. It was an experience I will never forget. 
 
Over the ensuing weeks and months, if we prayed for one we prayed for thousands with the full faith that God was going to do miraculous works through our obedience. I had no doubt that we would eventually make our way to the local hospitals and clean them out!  Just as in Jesus’ day, the infirmed would be healed by the throngs. This new chapter in our lives was going to be nothing short of amazing! I had been blind to the Holy Spirit’s potential for far too many years.
 
But something happened on my way to the revival. Not only did a paltry few prayed-for souls show any signs of improvement, none with serious, obvious ailments (as were mentioned by the responder above) ever became well. Sure, occasionally people with sinus headaches and lower back pain said they received relief, but nothing like the limbless growing new limbs, paraplegics discarding their wheelchairs, or stage 4 cancer victims immediately and permanently being made well. Sure, there were times when people thought they were healed, but invariably the symptoms would reappear…hopes were dashed and faith was challenged.  
 
And I am saddened to report that this “movement” (for lack of a better term) had a seriously deleterious effect on my spiritual life. Something had to be wrong with me and/or my connection to God. Why wasn’t God moving as we had been told? Did God not love me or us?  Was He really there?  My expectations that had been at a fever pitch, were summarily throttled. Perhaps God was distant and not nearly as involved in the affairs of His followers as I’d presumed. Doubts abounded. 
 
These mountains of frustrations, coupled with the underpinnings of leftbehindology (which teaches basically that God wasn’t faithful to His first-century followers) and some very unfortunate personal events (my wife’s 6 miscarriages for starters), sent me to the front of the agnostic line. I went from elder/teacher, confident Christian (prior to engaging in this “move of the Spirit”) to a pathetic excuse of a skeptic. So deep and so long did I plunge spiritually, that I cringe at the mere contemplation. My relationship with Jesus went from vibrant and vital to pitiful and pathetic. 
 
And like I said, though I don’t attribute my spiritual decline to any one issue (things are always more complicated than that), I can unequivocally report that failed expectations of the charismata played a significant part in my plunge into skepticism.
 

As my heart grew dimmer and dimmer, I remember attending Bible studies where for years I didn’t contribute a word, much less pray. But because I didn’t want my spiritual struggles to weigh too heavily upon my impressionable teen children, I went through the motions participating in the usual church activities.

 

So, although my faith had grown weak, because I maintained an outward facade of spiritual health, other’s never fully grasped my seriously decrepit estate. Some of my closest friends knew that something was amiss, but they did not detect the extent of my skepticism. Back in 2003, a few months after burying my father, I wrote a paper, “Through the Eyes of a Skeptic” and had anyone read it they may have been convinced that I had completely departed from the faith. 
 
Bringing things forward slightly, less than a decade ago, my life took a 180. Far from being where I wanted to be (in terms of my walk with the Lord), I finally began trusting God in a way that I hadn’t previously, even before my time attempting to “do the stuff”.  It took one colossal eschatological paradigm shift to pluck me from the abyss of spiritual ambivalence into a renewed life of faith. Once I realized that God was indeed faithful to His first-century followers, I knew that there was hope for me. And as my heart softened, I spent exponentially more time in the Word…which of course had a very positive rippling effect. 
 
Some use eschatological debate like a political football. I, however, view eschatology pragmatically. To me, fulfilled eschatology represented God’s undying faithfulness as He vindicated the souls under the altar who were constantly asking, “How long, Oh Lord?” Most today still believe those crying dead believers in Revelation 6 are still waiting. And that grieves me no end. 
 
In fulfillment, I finally had the Biblical certainly to know why we were not able to perform the same kinds of signs and wonders as Peter, Paul, and Jesus.  Just as there were amazingly miraculous events that took place during the Exodus, there were similar kinds of manifestations during the Exodus between the cross and the parousia.
 
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (NASB) Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
 
I believe the perfect came in the form of the parousia of Christ (an extended visit), which lasted from 66-70 AD. Most see the parousia as a one-time moment in history. I see it as a prolonged presence or visitation. In an Ed Steven’s podcast, he excerpted an Arthur Melanson radio program where he shared his understanding of Hebrews 11:30-40. (well worth the listen)  As Ed rounded out the Melanson clip, he gave great Biblical support for the ceasing of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge after the perfect came. The Canon was completed before the fall of the temple in AD 70, and therefore I do not believe in continuing revelation, characterized as an ongoing gift of prophecy. 
 
I do, however, believe that God still speaks to His children.  And I further believe that there are special times when He may reveal certain future events that will help us with our daily walk. Does God still work through dreams?  I have no doubt. But to expect this to be the ordinary course seems less than prudent and inconsistent with Scriptural expectations. 
 
Quite a number of years ago, my wife received a warning from a woman of stature, that there would soon (within the next year) be a great famine in our land. So certain was she of her dream’s fulfillment, that her email was almost apoplectically startling. That food shortage never came. Could it still come?  Perhaps. Anything is possible. I can’t judge the woman’s heart nor can I know how the Holy Spirit is working in her life. However, when people like this dear woman are steeped in the apocalyptic expectations of our day, there should be no wonder why they dream such things! When people are told that the worse things get the closer Jesus is to coming back, they will most definitely develop a glass-half-empty outlook.

The point is that these kinds of supernatural expressions need to be metered by Scripture. That said, I highly I recommend the following lectures from R.C. Sproul, “Are Miracles for Today?” and “The Gifts of the Spirit”.  Whatever we experience needs to be put in a Biblical context. If we neglect to do that, I think we open ourselves up to serious error and in my case a disintegrating faith. 
 
I’ve run out of time to do all that I intended, but suffice it to say, if a healing is documented and proven authentic, it must be attributed to God’s mercy and grace. God can obviously use any means possible to bring about His will and as long as all power and glory are attributed to God, and those praying believers aren’t exalted in any manner, I’ll always give God the credit.  
 
We agree that God CAN do anything at any time. So perhaps both the cessationists and the charismatics should be diligent to avoid putting God in their own box. Those who insist that God is moving today as He was in the first-century, may be in danger of doing the very thing I have been accused of. Just because we witness or hear about something attributed as miraculous, does not mean that these things are normative for today. And that’s the key takeaway. 
 

It puzzles me that it apparently doesn’t bother the sign gift proponents even a little bit that the most amazing testimonies of the miraculous i.e. raising the dead, are predominantly witnessed in foreign countries such as Guatemala and Mexico. I have heard these kinds of claims for years. I remember hearing Benny Hinn tell of a dead man being raised to life right on the speaking platform. But, I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to deal with brother Hinn’s issues. I’ll save that for another time.

If in fact, God is doing wondrous things in other parts of the world one must wonder if there an anti-spiritual force-field over the U.S.? Christian illusionist Andre Kole presents some serious challenges to the authenticity of the charismatic movement. For the serious Bible student, I would consider the following DVD: The Signs And Wonders Movement: Exposed

In closing let me say unequivocally that I am not skeptical that God CAN do the miraculous. The question is, is He working in the same manner today, as He did through the Apostles? So, is the move of the Holy Spirit as manifested through tongues, prophecy, and healing, normative for today?  I have serious doubts that He is, but that doesn’t mean that I doubt the Lord capabilities for even a microsecond. Faith believing that God can heal is not the same faith that believes He must heal upon our command. Personally, I think it’s far more important to develop faith in God’s sovereignty than to have faith in a specific outcome. 
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