Christian, But Not Necessarily All Miracle-Working, Has Ceased
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)
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.
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!