How to respond to reports of widespread supernatural activity?

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Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
From the time I was converted to faith in Christ about three years ago up until about 9 months ago I was part of strongly charismatic churches who taught the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second blessing and who taught about/often tried to exhibit the gifts of tongues and prophecy which I am beginning to believe ceased at the end of the apostolic age (have been reading the forums here and also a book by O. Palmer Robertson).

When I was a charismatic, one thing I always used to believe was that cessationists were building their own doctrines on traditions or on a 'fear of the supernatural' in the face of glaring biblical support for the continuation of the miraculous gifts as well as an abundance of empirical evidence 'proving' that my side was right.

When I began to study Reformed theology I knew I would have to get into the issue of spiritual gifts sooner or later, and I feel like what I've been reading on the subject has really helped me understand the purpose/function of miraculous gifts through Biblical Theology, etc. On top of that, I've been able to understand what the little nagging feelings I used to get when a lot of these "miraculous" things were taking place around me was, and I am able to admit now that much of my experience was not valid.

I was wondering what I should say to people who, as I used to, frequently use the "proof" of widespread signs and wonders going on in various places around the world, whether it be obscure "healing centers" in America or on the mission field in Africa. Are these reports true? If not, are people just being totally deceived as to what they're experiencing? I also know lots of people who claim the existence of "satanic" miraculous power, again mostly in other countries, etc, saying that dark magic is real and alive in places where voodoo and other such practices are common, and use this as another reason to necessitate the existence of Christian miraculous power, that is, to counter such things.

So what should I say to people who speak of such things?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
In most cases, I believe its a simple matter of delusion or wishful thinking. I don't believe most of these claims, and they seem to be largely unverifiable.

I believe that in the main, the habit of attributing healings (or whatnot) to the "miraculous" has the effect of negating or denigrating the doctrines of Predestination and ordinary Divine Providence. Whereas, a healthy respect for God's maintenance of his creation sees him as constantly active, and having decreed even ordinary causation that prevents accidents, saves from death at the last minute, gives necessary strength to recover from illness, etc. And all without recourse to his constant supervening in the midst of his regular acts.

I do make room in my basically cessationist outlook for the possibility of:

1) God's still working as he wills and doing amazing things. I just won't generally refer to that as a miracle because I just don't know how God may have done something. Did he NEED a miracle there, or was that his ordinary means? How would I know the difference? And I haven't got any apostles or prophets around to interpret them infallibly. So, the default position is ordinary providence, even if I don't know HOW it was done.

2) That when the gospel comes to those in utter darkness and entombed in demonic dungeons, the true gospel (but not a false one) could possibly be accompanied with all the power sufficient to tear down major strongholds of Satan, as was seen in the 1st century. But again, where is the real power? In men? Or in the gospel itself? (2 Cor. 10:4) Surely the results will look "miraculous" no matter what the results are! Afterward, "normal" is defined as salted-society.

The giving of the Word and major acts of Redemption were always accompanied by a little "extra." To give the faithless even less an excuse. The Reformers answer to the ROMAN claims of "validation by miracle," was to point to the Bible and proclaim the superiority of THOSE miracles as attestation of their doctrines.

Christianity is different precisely because God seems to prefer to use the things that are not mighty, not noble, and not wise--the "not-things", the nothings--to nullify the things that are. But otherwise, God says the "foolishness" of preaching, not signs and wonders, is his non-glamorous, ordinary means of demonstrating his power. :2cents:
 

puritan lad

Puritan Board Freshman
As a former Pentecostal who has to deal with this often among family members, I always point them to the Biblical definition of Prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18-22.

If they truly have the gift of prophecy, then our Bibles cease to be the "whole council" of God. Of course, they will try to defend a "lesser" non-authoritative sort of prophecy, but Deuteronomy 18 won't allow it.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
David - on a purely practical level you will find that your associations will change as your theology takes shape. Those who are closest to you will cause the greatest challenge. Some will see the change in your theology and have a hard time accepting it. As God gives opportunity, point them to the scriptures and share with them the same tools God used to change your understanding. Then pray. Don't become frustrated if they do not see things your way. It is part of the process for anyone who is steeped in aberrant theology. It may take them a long time to change. Some will never change. The sad fact is that you will lose the "fellowship" of many who were once in your circle of friends and acquaintances. It is a simple of matter of like-mindedness. We usually gravitate to those who share similar interests. The Puritan Board is proof of that.

I was in the Assembly of God church from 1979-83. I have been through the changes you are now experiencing. You are in my prayers.
 

puritan lad

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Bill,

I, too, was Assembly of God from 1983 until 2000. I was actually a minister in the AG. Reforming was difficult on a personal level, but God is good.

I was actually Reformed in my thelogy during my final three years in the AG, and it finally got to the point where I had to move on.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
David - on a purely practical level you will find that your associations will change as your theology takes shape. Those who are closest to you will cause the greatest challenge. Some will see the change in your theology and have a hard time accepting it. As God gives opportunity, point them to the scriptures and share with them the same tools God used to change your understanding. Then pray. Don't become frustrated if they do not see things your way. It is part of the process for anyone who is steeped in aberrant theology. It may take them a long time to change. Some will never change. The sad fact is that you will lose the "fellowship" of many who were once in your circle of friends and acquaintances. It is a simple of matter of like-mindedness. We usually gravitate to those who share similar interests. The Puritan Board is proof of that.

I was in the Assembly of God church from 1979-83. I have been through the changes you are now experiencing. You are in my prayers.
I really do appreciate your prayers and the knowledge that there are people who have gone through some of the same things I'm experiencing. I was very close to the other students in my (very charismatic) campus ministry, especially the other members of the band with whom I played for about 2 years. It's been very difficult not being around those people, especially due to the fact that there are very few Reformed believers on campus and it can tend to get lonely here. I think there are some who believe I've become a "pharisee" because of my newfound desire for pure, concise doctrine and there have been several occasions when I know I messed up in the way I dealt with their questions or assumptions about the change that God has been working in me, which surely didn't help them move past the typical charismatic understanding of the more traditional Reformed types. This area of dealing with other with whom I disagree in love, kindness and patience is one where for which I know I could use a lot of prayer.
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
As a former Pentecostal who has to deal with this often among family members, I always point them to the Biblical definition of Prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18-22.

If they truly have the gift of prophecy, then our Bibles cease to be the "whole council" of God. Of course, they will try to defend a "lesser" non-authoritative sort of prophecy, but Deuteronomy 18 won't allow it.
This has been crucial for me lately as I've studied the gifts of the spirit more in-depth. O. Palmer Robertson's book "The Final Word" has been of great help. When did this massive change in the nature of prophecy occur that charismatics use to defend their practice? It's scary to think of how many 'prophets,' were they living during the time when Deuteronomy was written, would be worthy of capital punishment. And I'm not just talking about the ones on television. My own experience with those claiming to have the gift of prophecy has been burdensome and grievous on several occasions when I received 'words from the Lord' that put me in great fear, worry and doubt.

Do you recommend any other books on the subject?
 
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