Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Christian Miracle-Working Has Ceased

Christian, But Not Necessarily All Miracle-Working, Has Ceased

Introduction

In a variety of contexts, the question of alleged miraculous gifts comes up. Some amazing things have been reported to me, in terms of alleged psychics and their ability to reveal secrets and predict the future; of the healing power of idols (Christian and pagan); and so forth. I recently met a self-proclaimed "Master of Raki" (Raki is apparently a Tibetan ritualistic practice that claims to be able to heal using an impersonal lifeforce), and was recently reminded (on the TeamPyro website) of similar (although less amazing) claims by the fraud Benny Hinn.

There is a wide variety of claims to the ability to work miracles, ranging from snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains - to Benny Hinn's claims to cure invisible sicknesses - to Raki claims to cure visible injuries - to many claims to the ability to speak prophetically (tell the future) - to the ability to speak in languages that are not one's own by upbringing or study - to the ability to raise the dead. The alleged miracle working is not always positive, some claim to be able to injure and kill at a distance, and not a few people are mortally afraid of jinxes and evil eyes that are thought to be able to be cast by ill-wishing miracle-workers.

Miracle-working in Christianity

In Christianity, the purpose of miracle-working was primarily to testify to the inspiration of the miracle-worker. That is to say, the purpose of Paul being able to miraculously cure people was in order that those around him would have immediate, unmistakable confirmation that he was a messenger (apostle) of God, and that God was with him. The prophets, beginning at Moses, in general (and perhaps without exception) had the ability to do miracles and these miracles were confirmation that the Spirit of God had been given to them. In any event, the prophets had the gift of prophecy, which is self-confirming to the generations that follow. Thus, we no longer can witness the miracle-working of Isaiah or Jeremiah, but we can still read their prophecies and the fulfillment thereof.

But miracle-working in Christianity was not only a testimony, it was usually useful and practical. Jesus' first recorded miracle was the transformation of water into wine, not to wow those of Cana, but to provide for the lack of wine at the feast.

Moses' first miracles were an exception: they were purely demonstrative, but almost immediately the miracles were both demonstrative and purposeful. The plagues upon Egypt were miraculous and punitive. The dividing of the Red Sea provided a path, the collapse killed the pursuers.

We may be able to find other purely demonstrative miracles: the fire from heaven that consumed the offerings to the Lord, but not to Baal would be another such example.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the miracle-working gifts were practical. Perhaps the most practical were the gifts of prophecy (to reveal the word of God) and the gift of tongues (to reveal the word of God to the nations).

Those special gifts were given during the time prior to the completion of the Bible. Now the testimony in the Bible of the miracles performed is all the witness we have. We must trust God and believe His word.

Miracle-working Outside of Christianity

There are also numerous reports of miracle-working outside of Christianity. The Raki master I alluded to above reported that he saw a Tibetan woman heal a serious skin injury immediately and visibly before his eyes. Many have reported that psychics told them secrets that ordinary human intuition could not have revealed. Roman Catholic exorcists have reported that demoniacs have spoken to them in Latin, though the one possessed never studied that language.

Not all of the alleged miracle-workings outside of Christianity are real. There are many frauds, many hoaxes, and many devious tricksters. Harry Houdini notable exposed most of the alleged psychics of his own day as mere charlatans. As far as I know, none of the famous magicians of the present day claim to use supernatural ability: all purport to be (and it is reasonable to believe that they are) merely illusionists and prestidigitators.

Almost certainly the vast majority of modern Tarot readers, Palmists, Numerologists, and Astrologers fall into the hoax category: many even delude themselves in this regard. One has only to go into a large bookstore in any major city in the Western world to find a large section on the occult - not just novels that capture the public's fascination with the occult, but also practical "how to" guides for determining the future and so forth.

On the other hand, it may be that there are some real miracle-workers outside of Christianity. After all, we are told that the Egyptians had magicians who were able to perform small wonders, and we are told about more than one demoniac with revelatory power in the New Testament.

Furthermore, we know that the fallen angels have much strength: recall what Satan was able to accomplish (by God's permission) against Job, including bringing sickness and death of his family members.

Alleged Christian Miracle-working in the Post-Apostolic Era

There are numerous allegations of miracle-working, particular among Pentecostals/Charismatics but also among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. The former group asserts that miracle-working gifts are widespread, and the latter group views miracles as isolated events, typically performed by the exceptionally righteous.

The former group's testimony is marred by numerous frauds and hoaxes. Prominent in the former group is the deceiver Benny Hinn. Others have adequately documented the fraud that he practices. He claims to heal people, but the vast majority of his claims are to heal illnesses that cannot be seen by the audience. When serious investigation is made of his claims, the result is that no or only an amount attributable to a placebo effect are the result.

The latter group's testimony is fraught with superstition, old wive's tales, exaggerations, and even lies. Claims that the relics of the saints have wrought numerous miracles are alleged, but confirmation of these miracles is impossible. Where investigation of the supposed wonder-working effects of the relics has been investigated, it has usually been positively established that the effects are mythical or fraudulent. Francis Turretin himself records the investigation that was made of two celebrated relics that had been held at Geneva: the brain of St. Peter and the arm of St. Anthony. Upon inspection, the former was discovered not only to be powerless, but to be a pumice stone: the latter, the leg of a stag.

These days both churches zealously conceal their relics, and it is unlikely that all will be exposed to the same investigation. Anyone reading the account of the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches would be amazed at the vast multitude of miracle-workers that have filled their ranks. It seems that every generation until the last hundred years had some miracle-worker or other, and yet now that we can travel to the far reaches of the globe to check, the "saints" have ceased to work miracles.

Possibly some Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox person, however, can correct me - pointing out some place where miracle-workers are still at work. I understand, for example, that it is generally alleged that the monks on Mt. Athos are supposed to be particularly holy, and even that some there have prophetic gifts, though I have not seen a shred of copy of their supposed prophecies.

Application of the Principles Above

Not every miracle-worker is what they say they are. Some are frauds and hustlers. There have, however, been genuine miracle-workers. As should be deduced from the principles above, those who today claim to be miracles-workers may generally be categorized as follows:
  • Frauds (e.g. Benny Hinn)
  • Self-Deceived (e.g. Many followers of the frauds, and perhaps even some of the frauds themselves.)
  • Miscategorized (e.g. Illusionists are not miracle-workers, nor do they claim to be.)
  • Myths (e.g. The legendary acts of the "saints" of the Eastern and Roman churches.)
  • Demoniacs (e.g. Legion)
  • Witches/Wizards/Warlocks (e.g. the Endorian Witch)
It is possible that a person may be a Christian and fall into very grievous sin. Accordingly, I would not encourage anyone to automatically judge another simply because that person has a tarot deck or has been attending a Pentecostal church full of the gibberish jabbering of exuberant attendees, just as we should not automatically judge another simply because their denomination openly violates the second commandment in its most heinous way, by making and worshipping idols of what men imagine to be God Incarnate.

Conclusion

The gifts of working miracles disappeared when Scripture was complete, because there was no longer any need of miracle-working for its primary purpose (although the secondary purpose continues to be of great need).

God also continues to maintain the world by His miraculous Providence, which may include many marvellous and unexplainable answers to prayer. Furthermore, God acts in this world miraculously transforming God-haters to God-lovers.

Miracles themselves have not ceased, but the time of the prophets and apostles is past, and their gifts are not with us today. The only physical miracles wrought by men today are either fraud, mistake, or evil. Beware, dear Christian.

Recall that it was because of occult practices that many of the nations of Canaan were punished by God, at the sword of Joshua, with genocide.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12
9When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

For some readers this passage may strike home more than one way. In both the Eastern and Roman churches righteous men and women who devoted their lives to service of the Lord are doubly dishonored both by superstitious ascription of wonder-working to them, and by necromantic attempts to communicate with them whose ears have long decomposed, whose souls are in glory with the Lord.

Communication with the dead is tied to the occult: both are pagan, and both particularly anger God. Don't do it - don't try to practice magic, don't claim to have gifts you don't, don't imagine that God has made you a wonder-worker, don't accuse righteous man of participating in such schemes, and don't attempt to communicate with the dead. If you happen to be around someone who can do legitimate supernatural things, beware: such an one is not of God.

Referring back to the Raki master I mentioned above, this man attempted to suggest that the impersonal force was the Holy Ghost is the impersonal force he channels to perform his healings, and that Jesus was a very high level Raki master of some sort. Such blaspheme is shocking to this author, but as Christian culture declines, we must be prepared to hear such claims. When we do, do not be impressed by their magic, do not join in their rituals, and do not make the mistake that many fathers of the Roman and Eastern churches did of trying to Christianize them. Instead eschew evil, and cling to Christ. Pray with me that the light of God's truth will shine both about the darkness of the occult and the darkness of the hoaxes unauthorizedly perpetrated in His Holy name.

May God have Mercy Abundantly,

He is a Compassionate God, let us praise Him!

-Turretinfan

15 comments:

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

With respect, it doesn't seem to me that you have demonstrated a cessation at all. You have sought to debunk claims of the miraculous, and certainly many may be rejected. But that is different from a demonstration that as a class they have ceased, even on your own terms (by which I mean: an attempt to demonstrate from the Bible that they have ceased). Have I missed it?

Peace be with you.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Reginald,

Thanks for your comment.

The concise argument is:

1. The gifts (although many had a useful secondary purpose) were given for a demonstrative purpose.

2. That demonstrative purpose is complete, for Scripture has been completed.

3. Scripture both speaks of its own completion (in the oft-disputed passage in Revelation), and speaks of the cessation of the gifts (in I Corinthians 13).

4. Scripture clearly teaches that God's gifts have purpose.

5. The purpose of the gifts being extinguished, the gifts too have been extinguished, since God acts according to a purpose.

That may not be a rigorous proof, but I have written the post above as a warning against myth, hoax, deception, and evil, rather than as a conclusive proof of the non-existence of modern day Christian gifts.

If someone wishes to take issue with my proof, I certainly welcome such comment.

-Turretinfan

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Really comprehensive.
--Godith

TheoJunkie said...

TF,

I appreciate your point that today's "miracle working" is fraught with hoax, etc.

I note, however, that the OT and NT have accounts of the same (of which I'm sure you are aware).

I have to disagree with you that the gifts have ceased. I think God uses them even today in both a practical and testimonial way. I agree with you that all works are due to Divine Providence (but note that even the miracle "working" of the NT is due to the same).

I will agree with you that we do not see "miracles on command" (in the sense of what we see in the OT/NT). But then again, even when the Apostles healed or did other things "on command", they were not "commanding" God, but working even then only according to His Will... and their "commanding" was in a sense not different from praying over the person.

In writing this, I think I'm starting to see that you are making a distinction between, say, telling someone to "Get up and walk, in the name of Christ"... versus appealing to God to heal the person.
In this I would agree that we do not see God working (even apparently) "on command" today... that, while the gifts continue today, they are worked out in a slightly different fashion (i.e., the gifted work in the context of an appeal to God). In this sense, perhaps we don't have "miracle working" today.

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

If I clarified that I agree that God still Providentially alters the ordinary course of "nature," either directly or at the hand of angels, but that God no longer has prophets, tongue-speakers, interpreters-of-tongues, healers, and those who can call down fire from heaven, would you agree?

-Turretinfan

TheoJunkie said...

TF,

Thanks for the clarification.

I would still affirm that we mere humans are tools (pun intended..)

I see no reason scripturally that God works now only directly or through angels... and in my walk I have observed humans being used as instruments of His work (in ways that display they are Gifted).

However, I agree insofar as these workings today are more subtle-- I think/have noticed that you have to have faith to see them for what they are. Today's miracles aren't "shock and awe"-- not designed to declare God to the unfaithful... but rather, are more like "faith builders" for those looking for them.

(By the way... I do NOT mean to suggest that a believer who either is a cessationist, or does not feel they have seen such workings, is lacking in any way. I'm merely pointing out that today's miracles are subtle, and thus do have a different purpose than in the OT/NT times.)

I also would agree with you that God does not today "identify individuals publically" as "healers" or whatever. What we see now is otherwise normal people-- routine non-descript congregation members... being instruments of extraordinary things (and again, on occasion, not on command, and clearly according to God's timing and will).

Therefore, I completely discount the Benny Hinns of the world (and this even if I disregard his false prophesies that have shown him to still be of the devil). But, for example, I am convinced that God healed my blown vertebral disk through the prayer group that was devoting their time to me that particular Tuesday several years ago.

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

I can agree that God still answers prayers, including prayers for healing.

Some of the ways that He answers prayer are not explainable by physicians.

Nevertheless, I think there is a qualitative difference between God responding to the fervent prayers of His people, and God giving individual messengers the ability to heal others miraculously by shadow, touch, or handkerchief.

-Turretinfan

TheoJunkie said...

TF,

I agree with your last comment. I don't want to clog your blog (particularly this post) with a discussion on cessationism, but would be interested in exploring this (whether/how spiritual gifts are given, used, and manifested today) further with you. If you are a "hard cessationist" (??) I suppose it would not be fruitful. But if you agree that the Gifts are still given/used "in some way", it might be interesting.

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

I'm not sure whether it would place me in the "hard" camp or not, but:

I believe that the extraordinary gifts (ability to place one's hands on the blind and restore sight, speak in unstudied languages, and the like) are gone.

I believe that God is not bound by the "laws of nature," so He may answer prayers in ways that are miraculous.

I believe that God still supernaturally regenerates and sanctifies.

I believe that God grants some ordinary gifts of an extraordinary degree (Beza and Scrivener, for example, were extraordinary scholars of Greek, but they did have to study). I listed language ability, but surely the same can be said of teaching, preaching, evangelistic, and even medical skill.

I'm not sure where your comments are heading (and I don't mind you adding them here, if you like).

I can't imagine someone having the gift of being able to supernaturally cure the blind, speak unstudied languages, or the like in something other than a binary sense (i.e. they have that gift or they don't).

Perhaps you'd care to elaborate?

-Turretinfan

TheoJunkie said...

TF,

Here is my round-about answer (bear with..)

The gifts listed in 1 Cor 12 are (verbatim from the ESV, omitting repeats):

8 ...utterance of wisdom
...utterance of knowledge
9...faith
...healing
10 ... working of miracles
... prophecy
...ability to distinguish between spirits
...various kinds of tongues
...interpretation of tongues.
28...apostles [apostleship]
... teachers [teaching]
... helping
... administrating

Note that there is no "specific" manifestation of these gifts described... Healing, for example, is not limited to "healing the blind"-- or even "healing physically." Tongues are noted as "various kinds" of tongues (despite the fact that he seems to talk in 1 Cor 14 about a non-earthly tongue (for praying to God), in 1 Cor 12, he seems to clearly indicated he means "all kinds" of tongues.)

Though not quoted here, note that Paul makes great discussion about "eagerly persuing" these gifts... this seems to me that the recipient of these gifts must exercise (practice, study) in order to become better at them. That one "learns" or "studies" a language does not necessarily mean they are not gifted in tongues.

I have a couple of additional observations:

1 Cor 14... Paul is talking to the congregation at large (i.e., the masses... but even in the NT times, only some people were noted to command people to get up and walk (etc).

1 Cor 1:7... Paul associates "spiritual gifts" and "waiting for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ."

I conclude 3 things:

Spiritual gifts are manifested in different ways-- e.g., one need not be able to heal the blind, to have the gift of healing. "Tongues" may be any non-native tongue. "Prophesy" need not be soothsaying, but may be manifested in something as simple as "the right word at the right time" (e.g., reading a particular scripture passage at a group meeting because you had the distinct impression that someone there needed to hear it-- and being right on target)

Spritual gifts must be persued-- One need not suddenly start speaking Greek out of the blue-- but one who learns Greek (or whatever) very easily may have this gift.

Spiritual gifts, being given by the Spirit to believers, inherently are something that is gained after one starts to believe... put another way, if a person "has always" been good at administration, this is likely not a spiritual gift. But if you have someone who couldn't balance their check book prior to coming to faith, and now can do that and other admin tasks remarkably well with ease (including easily picking up the skills and applying them)... this likely is a Gift.

I hope this makes sense...

Josh said...

The cessation of at least the gift of prophecy is demonstrated by the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel, Dan 9:24, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish F68 the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" where if I am not mistaken the Hebrew literally says "seal up vision and prophet." Now, you compare that passage to 1 Cor 13:8-10, "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." What is that which is perfect? Since the time-frame for the fulfillment falls within the 70 weeks prophecy, it must have been fulfilled before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Therefore, putting both passages together, the complete Bible was written by 70 AD, and that is "that which is perfect." Granted this internal evidence from the bible disproves the agnostical scholars in their claim that John wrote the Apocalypse in 90 AD, for this proves all the Bible was written before 70 AD.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Josh,

Thanks for your comments. I can't fully agree with your analysis of Daniel 9, though I find it interesting.

The seventy weeks are:

7 weeks to the rebuilding of Jerusalem

62 weeks until the death of Christ

1 week of covenant confirmation.

I'm inclined to read verse 24 as speaking of the work of Messiah alone, not the work of Messiah and the Apostles. Nevertheless, if we made that last week to include the apostles, the fulfilmnet of the midweek end of oblations would seem to be the destruction of Jerusalem with the final desolation of the temple, and then the remainder of the week would still be left, in which John and others could write after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Anyway, I don't want to sound to dogmatic about my gloss on Daniel 9. Perhaps you have a more detailed exegesis to offer.

-Turretinfan

Josh said...

My view is also based on the fact that no NT writers mention the destruction of the temple as an accomplished fact, which I think they would have mentioned had they been writing after its destruction. But as you say about verse 24 refering to the work of the Messiah alone and not the Messiah plus the apostles, in reality the ceasing of tongues etc. could never be called the work of the apostles. Just as they had no power to confer such a gift apart from the Spirit, they certainly could not remove it themselves.

Turretinfan said...

Thanks, Josh!

Interestingly, Martin Anstey (whom I mention in my most recent post) also dates the 70 weeks to conclude at the destruction of Jerusalem.

There's a separate question attached, which relates to the interpretation of what it means to seal up vision and prophecy ... does it mean to fulfill the previously given prophecies? or to put an end to the gifts themselves?

You seem to take the latter view, and obviously my own view would not find that interpretation automatically impossible.

Isaiah 29:11 (and context) might even seem to confirm such a view as you have presented.

I also agree that I Corinthians 13 prophecies of the end of the charismatic gifts.

I also agree that the completion of the Bible marks the end of the revelatory gifts, because that which was in part has been finished.

-Turretinfan

Josh said...

The view I gave is based on the KJV 's margin note concerning the word "prophecy" in this passage stating "Heb. prophet" (i.e. the Hebrew literally says "prophet" not "prophecy") based on which I understood the text to mean to seal up the office of prophet. But I suppose, actually that "to seal up prophet" could mean both, to seal up the prophecies that went before, and to seal up the office of prophet. Now, I will admit that the last week from verse 27 is hard to place, since sacrifice and oblation are said to be caused to cease in the half of it, and the Messiah was already cut off in the previous week. Therefore, so far as I can determine, the ceasing of sacrifices in the half of the last week must be speaking of the actual destruction of the temple which finally ended the sacrifices physically although they already were spiritually unaccepted since the cross, i.e. since the previous week. Of course, this view requires that the remainder of verse is not something that chronologically follows but rather is an explanation of the first half of the verse, "and for the overspreading of abominations..." explaining why the temple was destroyed, not saying then the temple was destroyed. This confirming of the covenant for one week then could be viewed as the waxing away of Judaism's glory giving way to Christianity, finally culminating in the destruction of the temple, which fully confirms the covenant beyond all doubt pronouncing all the prophecies concerning the Messiah as fulfilled (as you point out) but also I think bringing an end to the brief interlude of Christian prophets, so that "prophet" was sealed up in both senses by the same event.