Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Charismatic Movement: A Biblical Critique (Signs and Miracles)

Signs and miracles

Charismatics believe that the miraculous sign gifts, including “faith healing,” are normative for today. Therefore, they believe that dramatic miracles are still occurring in the church. Historic Protestantism teaches that the sign gifts served a distinct purpose in the apostolic church—that of authenticating the apostles’ teachings. Once the Spirit-inspired teachings concerning the person and work of Christ were inscripturated, the sign gifts ceased, because they were no longer needed. To determine if the sign gifts are still normative, we must answer three questions: What is the purpose of the sign gifts? Did these gifts cease after the completion of the New Testament canon? Are the miracles that are supposedly occurring today the same as those that occurred in the days of Christ and the apostles?
The Bible teaches that signs are public, visible, miraculous events. Their purpose was not to give believers exciting worship services [39] or a wonderful experience but to authenticate a divine message or messenger, to prove publicly that the person performing miracles was sent from God. “In Exodus 4:5 God told Moses to perform miracles in order ‘That they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers...has appeared to you.’ Thus the miracles attested Moses’ divine mission.”  [40]
Elijah was sent to reside with a widow in Zarephath (1 Kgs. 17). After the widow’s son died, Elijah prayed to God, and God revived her son. What was the widow’s response? “Now by this [miracle] I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (v. 24). When Jesus was asked at the Feast of Dedication if He was the Christ, He said, “I told you, and you did not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me” (Jn. 10:25). Nicodemus told Christ, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (Jn. 3:2). The man born blind chided the Pharisees for not knowing that Jesus was sent from God: “You do not know where he is from, and yet he has opened my eyes!... If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (Jn. 9:30, 33; cf. Mt 9:6; 14:33; Ac. 2:22). The signs that Jesus did authenticated both Him and His message. His greatest sign, of course, was His resurrection from the dead (Mt. 12:38-40).
The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that the miracles he performed proved his apostolic authority. “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (2 Cor. 12:12). If miraculous signs were common in Paul’s day, such a statement would have proved nothing. Miracles were never an end in themselves but authenticated the apostolic message in the first century church. When Paul and Barnabas preached, the Lord, “was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Ac. 14:3; Barnabas is called an apostle in v. 14).
The author of Hebrews asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:3-4). The passage refers to those who heard Christ—the apostles. A prerequisite of being an apostle was to have seen the resurrected Christ (Ac. 1:21-22; cf. 1 Cor. 9:1). Paul says that he was the last living person to see the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15:7-8). If the purpose of the sign gifts was to authenticate the apostles as true messengers God, and the apostles are all dead, then the sign gifts are no longer needed; they have served their purpose. If a modern faith healer claims to have seen the resurrected Christ, he is a liar. [41]
B. B. Warfield did an intensive historical study of miracles and concluded that miracles did, in fact, cease after the death of the apostles. [42] He noted that as heresy and superstition increased in the papal church, so did the accounts of “miracles.” These “miracles” were obviously fraudulent, because they were associated with gross heresy, idolatry and superstition (e.g., being sprinkled with Mary’s breast milk, or touching a piece of the cross, or placing the eucharist on a person’s forehead). The Reformation, with its solid biblical theology, discarded all such nonsense and pointed people back to the pure, infallible, sufficient Word of God. Sadly, the Charismatic movement is turning from the purity of Reformation doctrine back toward the subjectivism, mysticism and superstition of Rome.
The fact that...glossolalia were virtually absent during eighteen hundred years and the fact that the gifts of healing which the apostles possessed were no longer in evidence after the apostles had died should certainly give us pause. The testimony of church history would seem to be that the Spirit has not continued to bestow these gifts on God’s people, even though he has continued to guide the [true] church into all the truth. If these miraculous gifts were intended to remain in the church, why did they disappear? If these gifts are essential to the life of the church, why did God withhold them from His people? The conclusion seems inescapable: these gifts were never intended to remain in the church. [43]
If real, dramatic sign miracles are still occurring today, they should be easy to verify objectively. A brief comparison between the New Testament gift of healing and that practiced by Charismatics will prove that Charismatic faith healers are fraudulent. Jesus and the apostles healed many people with a word or touch (e.g., Mt. 8:6-7; Ac. 9:32-35). They healed instantaneously (Mt. 8:13; Mk. 5:29; Ac. 3:2-8). They healed totally not partially (Jn. 9:7; Ac. 9:34). They were able to heal everyone who believed (Lk. 4:40; Ac. 5:12-16; 28:9). They were able to heal serious organic disease, crippled bodies and birth defects (Lk. 6:6, 17; Jn. 9:7; Ac. 3:6-8; 5:16; 8:7). They cast out demons (Lk. 13:32; 10:17; Ac. 10:38) and raised the dead (Lk. 7:11-16; Mk. 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn. 11:43-44; Ac. 9:26-42; 20:9-12).
There are a number of serious discrepancies between the healing miracles in the Bible and what is supposedly occurring today. Most healings performed by Christ and the apostles occurred in public places, in front of unbelievers. They did not hold healing services; they healed people right out in the open, even in front of their enemies (e.g., Lk. 5:22-26; Ac. 3:4-10). Have you ever seen a modern faith healer go into a major hospital and heal the sick? Have you ever seen one heal someone on the steps of city hall, in a shopping mall, or at a public park? If these faith healers have the same ability as the apostles, why do they do their “healings” in church buildings, in front of people who already believe? Signs are given for unbelievers; Christians do not need to be convinced that Jesus is the Christ—they already believe.
Christ and the apostles healed people who were generally known to be suffering from illness. Peter healed a man “lame from his mother’s womb” who begged daily at the temple. Afterward, the people “knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him” (Ac. 3:10). Christ healed a man who couldn’t walk for thirty eight years, who lay daily by the pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5:2-15). If you go to the typical faith healing crusade what do you see? A room full of total strangers. Virtually anyone could throw away a pair of crutches, and no one would really know if a healing had taken place or not. Why don’t modern faith healers do what Christ and the apostles did and perform a public healing on someone that everyone knows is crippled? The answer is simple: they can’t.
The people who claim to have the gift of healing never seem to get out of their tents, their tabernacles, or their TV studios. They always seem to have to exercise their gift in a controlled environment, staged their way, run according to their schedule. Why don’t we hear more of the gift of healing being used right in the hospital hallways? Why aren’t healers using their gift in places like India and Bangladesh? Why aren’t they right out in the street where masses of people are racked by disease? It isn’t happening. Why? Because those who claim the gift of healing don’t really have it.  [44]
If miraculous healings were still occurring today, it would be very easy to prove. Anyone could take a camcorder to the healing crusade and film the miracle for all to see. But why is this not happening? Because the supposed healings taking place today prove nothing. The typical Charismatic healing deals with back pain, hemorrhoids, leg lengthening (not by two feet but half an inch), headaches etc. Christ restored a man’s hand that was lifeless and withered; the “hand was restored as whole as the other” right in front of Christ’s enemies (Lk. 6:10). They could not deny the miracle. On another occasion, Jesus restored a man’s ear that had been cut off, right in front of His enemies (Lk. 22:51-52). Are modern faith healers restoring amputated limbs? Of course not. Can you go to a healing crusade and observe a withered hand restored right in front of your eyes? No, it’s not happening. If Charismatics were healing crippled legs, withered hands, cut-off ears, blind eyes, deaf ears, palsy, hemorrhages, etc., like Christ and the apostles, they would be on the nightly news, 60 Minutes and 20/20. Sadly, the only Charismatic faith healers who make the news are there because of fraud, adultery, theft, prostitution, and the like.
Christ and the apostles raised the dead. Jesus raised the widow’s son who was dead and already in a casket; afterward, the account of what Christ did “went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region” (Lk. 7:11-17). He brought to life a synagogue ruler’s daughter (Mk. 5:35-43). Lazarus had been dead for four days and was starting to rot. When Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come forth!’” Lazarus rose from the dead in front of many Jews (Jn. 11:43-45). Paul raised the young man Eutychus who had fallen out of a window and died (Ac. 20:9-12). He probably had a cracked skull, broken bones and serious internal injuries, yet he was completely healed in an instant! The Apostle Peter raised the godly widow Dorcas from the dead (Ac. 9:36-42).
Are modern faith healers raising the dead to life? Have they ever stopped at the scene of a fatal car accident and restored shattered bodies to life, as Paul did with Eutychus? Have they ever walked up to a coffin at a funeral and simply spoken the word of life to the dead? “It is interesting to note that those claiming the gift of healing today do not spend much time in funeral parlors, with funeral processions, or in cemeteries. The reason is obvious” (MacArthur, p. 145). While there are stories on Christian television shows of those who supposedly died and then came back to life, these stories cannot be verified. If Charismatic healers could raise the dead, like Christ and the apostles, then they could prove it by doing it in front of a large group of witnesses.

Conclusion

The Bible teaches that miraculous sign gifts served a distinct purpose; once that purpose was accomplished, they ceased. Modern tongues, prophecy and faith healing do not even remotely resemble what took place during the days of Christ and the apostles. The objective testimony of history is that these miraculous gifts ceased after the completion of the New Testament canon. Christ and the apostles did their miracles openly, even in front of their enemies. We challenge our Charismatic brothers to do likewise and prove to the world and non-Charismatic Christians that these gifts are real. Until there is biblical and empirical evidence to support Charismatic claims, we must regard the distinctives of the Charismatic movement to be bogus and fraudulent (2 Cor. 13:1). While we believe that modern faith healers are living in self-deception and (knowingly or unknowingly) committing fraud, we also believe that God heals His people with prayer. If you are presently attending a Charismatic church, you are exhorted to leave and attend a church that focuses on the truth as revealed in Scripture. God is not impressed by large numbers, silly entertainment and the phony miracles of modern Charismatic preachers. He wants you to attend a church that teaches the truth and worships Him as He has appointed in His Word.

By: Brian Schwertley

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