Miracles, pt. 2

Previously, I gave a brief explanation of why I think the accounts of miracles in the Bible are reliable. This time, I’ll answer the question of whether miracles can occur today.

But before I do that, it will be beneficial to give a brief summary of the main theological positions on the matter, both Cessationist and Continuationist.

There are two major varieties of Cessationist theologies: The most predominant is that God used Miracles to confirm the deity of Christ, the authority of the apostles, and to help establish the Church during the lifetime of the apostles. Since that time, miracles are no longer used by God. They use as their primary proof text 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. This is the view of the strict cessaionists, and is the stand of many Western Protestant theologians, and is an official doctrine of some denominations, although some believe that the cessation of the miraculous dates from the finalization of the Canon rather than the death of the apostles.

The other major Cessationist doctrine, also based on 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, is that God still gives spiritual gifts such as teaching, evangelism, helps, ect. but the ‘signs and wonders’ gifts like healing, tongues, and prophecy ceased with the apostles. This is the predominant teaching of most Protestant denominations.

Both believe that the Corinthians passage clearly states that ‘signs and wonders’ have ceased, and that modern miracles are either coincidence, fakery, or demonic in origin.

The Charismatic and many non-denominational churches as well as some individual congregations within other denominations hold a Continuationist doctrine, which teaches that God has never ceased to use miracles for His glory, and that we as mere mortals should not presume to limit God when He has not clearly stated that He has ceased to do something (which He has decidedly not done in the Corinthians passage).

Some North American and European congregations teach that while the ‘sign’ gifts and other miracles have (for the most part) ceased in economically prosperous and developed countries, they continue to be used of God in poor and undeveloped areas of the world.

So, what does the passage in Corinthians actually say about miracles (or ‘signs and wonders’? Here’s the passage in the RSV:

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Co 13:8–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Cessationist interpretation is that once the canon of the Bible was established, the perfect revelation from God had been revealed, and so the sign gifts and miracles have passed away.

The Continuationists believe that this interpretation not only identifies the ‘perfect’ incorrectly, but takes the statement out of context in order to do so. I agree.

The broader context is that of the entire letter. Paul is instructing the Corinthian church in how they should conduct themselves as followers of Christ, especially in corporate and public settings. In chapters 12 through 14 he specifically addresses the gifts of the Spirit. It is clear from the context that not only does Paul expect those who are not apostles to be given and to use for God’s glory all the gifts, but encourages them to both properly use and desire them. The gifts are clearly not given only to the apostles and/or church leaders.

The first part of chapter 15 explains the disputed passage in chapter 13. In I Corinthians 15:1-26, Paul talks about the Gospel and the resurrection as well as “the end” – that time when God’s Kingdom is fully and perfectly instituted on earth as well as heaven. In other words, the time when the ‘perfect’ will come.

Taken in context, 1 Cor.13:8-10 speaks not of the establishment of the Canon, but the establishment of the Kingdom.

But, many say, I’ve never heard of any credible account of a genuine miracle in MY lifetime, so God must not be using them. Science has explained many as natural occurrences, and the rest are either unsubstantiated or outright fakes. Therefore, miracles have clearly ceased.

I find the argument from rarity to be rather lame. Miracles by definition are rare, unusual, and exceptional; if ‘signs and wonders’ were commonplace, they wouldn’t be miraculous, they would be expected and normal!

Evaluate this argument, which is analogous to the one given above: ”I don’t believe in two-headed calves. I’ve never seen one, and every account I’ve heard of is either third-hand or the evidence consists of easily photoshopped pictures or videos with really good special effects.” You see the problem? Just because YOU haven’t directly observed or experienced something does not disprove its existence.

Besides, I can easily refute the “no credible accounts of miracles in modern times” argument.

Using the same criteria for evaluating the truth of otherwise unbelievable accounts as I apply to every other source, I can confidently say that I have evidence of at least two miracles within my lifetime related to me by persons who where either directly involved or eyewitnesses to them. All had proven to be consistently truthful in all other aspects of their lives and conversation, and I had known all of them for many years. In both cases, the miracle was unexpected, unexplainable, and revealed God’s glory to both believers and unbelievers witness to it. One of them resulted in the salvation of at least one person. Incidentally, neither one happened in the setting of a worship service or any kind of formal gathering.

Email me at curly@wofblogs.org if you want details about that. In the meantime, here are some links:

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Theopedia has good outline summaries of both Cessationist and Continuationst doctrine with links to video, audio, and text with more information from a variety of sources.

At Spirit Home, there is an extensive article on the subject from a Continuationist perspective, with detailed analysis of Scripture concerning the subject.

SB Voices, a blog of the Southern Baptist Convention, has an article from the Cessationist perspective about the continuum of belief between the extremes on both sides of the issue, and those things that both Cessationists and Continuationists agree upon.

Charles Powell has an article at Bible.org that presents and evaluates the two positions. Here’s a brief quote for those of you who don’t want to read the full article:

“Probably the most sober conclusion is that the miraculous and revelatory gifts are not normative, and apart from the apostles and prophets probably never were. They may occur from time to time in various churches. They may never occur in some churches. They may never occur over periods of time. It is hard to say since we do not have a computer log of all the experiences of all the churches in all of history. Hopefully, we will be people, who upon hearing or seeing such experiences will be quicker to praise God than we are to critique the experience.”