“Since the establishment of the Church of God does not wish to perpetuate miracles even to our day, lest the mind should put its trust in visible sings, or grow cold at the sight of common marvels,” wrote Augustine, the fourth century bishop of Hippo. Fifteen centuries later, this position regarding the miraculous is still widely held among churchmen throughout the western world.
This position is generated either from a theological position that “rightly divides” (a surgical hermeneutic) all miraculous and charismatic out of our current “dispensation” and relegates it to an earlier age of apostolic expansionism or it is a problem of having embraced a world view that denies the supernatural. That world view says that if it can’t be measured, tested and scientifically validated, it just can’t be. This world view is the spawning ground of secularism and even communism’s dialectic materialism. Yet nearly two-thirds of the world thinks in terms of spirits, gins or demons as having real consistent influence and effect upon their personal lives.
When a Christian missionary who has embraced the prevailing western world view evangelizes them, he can indeed offer the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ yet often falls short on being able to offer a supernatural alternative to combat his convert’s spirit world. Their new Christian life seemingly does not have the power to deal with sickness and calamity imposed by evil spirits that the local shamans or witch doctors are in tune with. These positions of hyper-dispensationalized theology or a world view born of modernity have done much to rob God’s children of what is truly part of their inheritance as Christians. These positions have neither support in scripture or history. Examine these post-apostolic testimonies:
Irenaeus who lived about ASD 140-203 wrote: “We do also hear many brethren in the Church who possess prophetic gifts and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God.”
The second century saw the rise of the Montanists, followers of Montanus, who embraced a strong emphasis on the miraculous, especially prophecy. The famous North African theologian Tertullian became a Montanist, lending credence to this movement. Although excluded from the mainstream of the church, groups of Montanists were still in existence as late as the sixth century.
Justin Martyr, writing around AD 140 comments in his defense of Christianity that exorcisms from evil spirits were common through praying in Jesus’ name.
Later church leaders accepted sings and wonders as valid Christian experience. “Martin Luther, who initially denied the gift of healing for his time, lived to see his friend, Melanchthon, visibly brought from the point of death through his own prayers. Five years later, when asked what to do for a man who was mentally ill, Luther wrote the instructions for a healing service based on the New Testament letter of James, adding, “This is what we do and what we have been accustomed to do, for a cabinet maker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ’s name.”
John Wesley describes a revival meeting in England in 1759 “in which both adults and children fell under the power of the Spirit. They shrieked, swooned, fell to the floor as if dead, babbled senselessly, cried out in praise of God.” If Wesley had momentary qualms about their authenticity he quickly put them out of mind. In response to his own sense of danger to regard extraordinary circumstances too much. Wesley said, “Perhaps the danger is to regard them too little.”
The Cain Ridge camp meeting of 1801 saw hundreds simultaneously fall under the power of the Sprit “as if being filled by an unseen volley of shot.” Writing about this meeting, Aneas McCallister claimed that “the like wonders had not been seen except in the Kentucky revival last summer.” That same year, a North Carolina Presbyterian congregation experienced a movement of the Spirit. “Physical manifestations and speaking in tongues made it like the day of Pentecost and none were careless or indifferent.”
In 1880, reports of revival came from a Moravian mission outpost. Many were shaken and compelled to cry out for mercy as such gifts of the Holy Spirit as prophecy and tongues, together with visions and dreams, began to appear among the wakened.
These are but a fraction of the available testimony from church history. We can thank God that men, sometimes in the light of emerging truth, are willing to reassess their positions.
Augustine of Hippo, who we mentioned earlier, wrote in his book, “Retractions”, about a change of position on the miraculous: “What I said is not to be interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For when I wrote that, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan.” In “City of God”, Augustine wrote about a man who was healed of gout, another instantly cured of paralysis and hernia and of evil spirits drive out of others by prayer. A child, crying after being crushed by an ox cart was miraculously retuned to consciousness and showed no signs of having been crushed. Augustine also related how a corpse was laid out, the funeral was arranged and everyone was grieving and sorrowing when a friend of the family prayed and anointed the body with oil and the boy came back to life. A concluding comment of his in his final years was: “If I kept merely to telling of miracles of healing and omitted all other writing…I should have to fill several volumes.”