Prophecy and Miracles

I know there are quite a few Christians out there who believe that supernatural miracles still happen on a regular basis and that prophecy (the divinely inspired kind) can occur on a daily or weekly basis. If it matters (it probably doesn’t), most of the ones I know come from a charismatic background. I’m not one of those Christians, though I do think that God can, and does, work that way today. I just don’t think it happens as often as some want to believe.

What is (or was) the purpose of miracles and prophecies? It was to authenticate and validate both the existence and the power of God and His Word to all people. Every place in history that we see a significant amount of the divinely supernatural, it was God communicating with His creation. All throughout the Old Testament days, miracles were common, prophecies regular occurrences, and God audibly speaking to his selected followers a frequent activity. In the New Testament days, particularly in the first days of the church, healings, speaking in tongues, and more prophecies were prevalent. Nearly all were exclusively held by the apostles as the pillars of the early church.

In every single point in history, miracles and prophecies were used by God to establish a little more of His Word to His people because there was nothing written down at the time. As such a more ‘physical’ presence was required, things that would ‘prove’ to all who saw them that God was real and active in the world. Once His Word was completed, however, all such activity came to screeching halt; there was no more need for divine communication because everything we needed to know was written down in the form of the Bible. Once the apostles’ ministries were complete, there was no more need for miracles or prophecies. The Church was established and thriving, the truth laid out at their fingertips. The power of the Word was complete, the Body acting as the image of God, with no more need for the supernatural to validate the existence and power of God.

That is why I do not believe that God uses such means to communicate and interact with His people to any a great extent today, particularly in the areas where the Bible is readily available. If people will not believe His written Word, then they will not believe an obvious miracle or prophecy – they sure didn’t when Jesus performed them right in front of their eyes. The exception to this occurs, I believe, in those countries where Jesus and Jehovah God are virtually unknown or where missionary access is very restricted. Stories have come out of countries like Africa, South America, and China where people have never heard of Christ before and yet have accepted Him because He came to them in a vision and requested they follow him, or where a missionary has had the ability to speak a language never learned before just long enough to communicate the Gospel to a native and bring him to Christ, or to bring healing to a dying villager so that an entire village may believe. It happens that the supernatural still intervenes in the world, but it seems to be restricted to those who have never heard and are not likely to in their lifetimes.

This is not to say that God does not act even here in the US, where the Gospel can be found on just about any street corner; there is evidence that He does. I just don’t necessarily think that it happens in a weekly church service or that an individual can receive divine prophecy directly from God when his Bible is sitting right in his lap. That sort of thing doesn’t seem to fit the model for the reasons miracles and prophecies occur.

I could be wrong on this, but I don’t think I am. After all, everything we need to know about God, about how to know and follow Him, has already been written down for us. Why would we need anything more?

6 thoughts on “Prophecy and Miracles”

  1. Hey Jim

    I have appreciated your comments on my blog. I’ve never commented here before, but I felt so inclined on this subject.

    I believe both (are there more than two?) positions on this subject are equally valid and valuable. I will say that due to my personal experience (and I see how the word “experience” in and of itself could be a problem here) of faith, I sit in the “other” camp.

    That said, what I really wish to express is appreciation for your last paragraph where you said “I could be wrong on this.” That simple phrase is, in my opinion, the greatest thing Christians can share. This is what will enable people to “hear” us.

    We can each be completely convinced of our personal understanding, and yet still be gracious enough to say that our understanding MIGHT not apply to all other Christian experiences. I don’t think God desires cookie-cutter Christians…but rather He desires each of us to have a different relationship with Him. If God is like a multi-faceted diamond, and we each see only one or two facets of Him…this requires each of us to share the view of “our” facets with those around us in order for each of us to have a more complete view of God. I understand that, for entirely defensible reasons, you are confident of what you believe. And I thoroughly respect your view.

    I do believe the supernatural manifestation of God has become…let’s say…overcooked. While I have always lived an experiential faith, I have become terribly exhausted of the “used-car-salesman” approach to the supernatural works of God. I believe we Christians can easily give ourselves a bad name with “on-demand” miracles and exaggerated or fabricated “manifestations” (Think “Leap of Faith” with Steve Martin. Ugh.). Ultimately I believe that us “holy-rollers” have simply lashed out during the last several decades (or even century) against the primarily cessationist viewpoint…and we have erred tremendously with all our nauseating insistence on the miraculous.

    I understand you are not suggesting a rigid or absolute cesstionism…which is largely why I’m interested in what you have said about it. I do believe it’s those who tend more to align themselves with the “ceased” position that really know how to keep their head on their shoulders in matters of faith, and I as a self-defined “charismatic” appreciate that.

    And while I realize that we are not arguing the either/or of charisma vs. cessationism here…in lager circles I tend to wonder why the existence of the highly intellectual existence of methodological faith (primarily supported by the written Word of God) and the highly experiential existence of normative miraculous expressions of God (primarily supported by the Holy Spirit) are frequently perceived as being mutually exclusive?

    Maybe, instead, it’s somewhere in the middle…both/and? Just wondering…and I could be wrong.

  2. I consider it pretty much standard practice to consider a margin of error in my beliefs (with the exception of the Gospel itself, of course). I know my understanding is not perfect, and on this issue in particular I don’t want to limit the work of the Holy Spirit by declaring in no uncertain terms that the miraculous does not happen in today’s congregations, when it may, in fact, occur from time to time. I do think, though, that when such an event takes place, that it is very important to make sure that it is truly from God, as Scripture states that Satan will try to deceive through works that appear to be from God but actually are not. I’ve seen many led astray by such things, and so I tend to be very skeptical when someone says they received direct revelation from God, especially when He gave us the Bible. Again, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that God does still work this way, even in the midst of a gathered body of believers, but I do think it happens _much_ less often than some circles would have us believe.

    Thanks for your comments, Lily. I appreciate the continuation of the discussion.

  3. “…when such an event takes place, that it is very important to make sure that it is truly from God, as Scripture states that Satan will try to deceive through works that appear to be from God but actually are not.”

    And I think among charismatics that is a problem…God gives us the Holy Spirit in order to discern Him…no matter how authentic it looks or sounds…not matter how badly we want a “manifestation” to be from God…if we hear “alarm bells” from the Holy Spirit we must learn to proceed with extreme caution. Sometimes even “make a run for it”. I especially watch out for “demand” miracles…I don’t care how many times they spell it out for me…I know God doesn’t ALWAYS miraculously heal EVERYONE. After all, we really don’t have a clue about His purposes, big picture. That’s not to limit what God CAN do, but rather understanding there is a limit to what He is willing to do just because we “claim” it.

    I understand when you say “I just don’t necessarily think that …an individual can receive divine prophecy directly from God when his Bible is sitting right in his lap.” I don’t believe prophecy should ever be seen as “replacing” or “adding to” scripture, because prophecy should BE scripture. In other words…when we are discouraged or struggling…God wants us to cling to Him and His word…but sometimes we need a “reminder” of His promises…if someone comes to me and says “I felt that God wants to say to you ‘You are the apple of my eye, you are in the shadow of my wings.” or gives me the scripture reference Psalm 17:8…the first thing I will do is go to the word …which is sitting right in my lap…and be encouraged. I know that is a prayer of David…and maybe I’m not being contextually accurate there, but I think you can understand my point…

    While I do believe in directional or correctional prophecy…I agree that these are much more infrequent than most charismatics would like to believe…and there is a certain testing process they ought to undergo before being shared or administered. That’s another long post…so I’ll save it.

    I’ll readily admit I have been “caught up” on occasion…realizing I wanted so badly for something to be true that I believed it without testing it (Is it Biblical? Does it glorify God or man? Would Jesus say/do that? What’s the motivation or spirit behind it?). I only pray that God would educate me through these experiences…so that my discernment is always being refined. But because I believe in the discernment God provides through His Spirit and I believe God “has our back” when our discernment fails, I still welcome the charis gifts, including “direct revelation” (If I’m correct in understanding, you’re referring to what is commonly called “prophecy” or “words” in charismatic circles?). I guess I believe that the misuse or abuse of something does not disprove it’s existence…not to be cliché.

    I appreciate the dialogue. I have been pretty hard-headed about this in the past…the charismania thing…but I have since had to repent and learn that if God gives many of us different understandings and comfort levels about the issue…then He did so on purpose…and I consider that purpose as being His desire for us to experience all of Him while still keeping our wits about us…and that’s the benefit of dialogue like this. It’s all about balance…in my opinion.

    Thanks for chatting,
    Lily

  4. Lily, first of all, you’re welcome for the dialogue. I love being able to bounce thoughts and ideas around, particularly with people who come from different backgrounds than I do. I think the stretching experience is very beneficial. Second of all, it sounds like you and I are really a lot closer on our beliefs than maybe I originally thought from your first comment. I don’t think there is anything you’ve said that I disagree with, for the most part, assuming we’re defining our terms the same way.

    You mention discernment, and that is one gift from the Holy Spirit that I believe God has given me. For whatever reason God seems to have allowed me a special insight into people – I can usually take a mental walk in their shoes and understand pretty well where they are coming from and their motives for doing things. Call it empathy. But of course that discernment is not perfect; I make mistakes, sometimes pretty bad ones. I’ve hurt people around me because of mistaken conclusions. In short I didn’t test the observations I made carefully enough. I made observations and didn’t check them with the Holy Spirit’s prompting, what have I in recent years come to recognize as my gut feeling. And even with checking that I’m sometimes wrong and I have to make restitution as best I can.

    I admit, I’m not real well-versed in the charismatic movement, other than what I have seen in videos of charismatic church services, things like speaking in tongues, healings, and being slain in the Spirit. So when you say ‘direct revelation’, I’m honestly not entirely sure what that looks like to you. Even the definitions of the terms ‘prophecy’ and ‘words’ is a bit muddled because different circles use those words differently. When I think of direct revelation, I think of a distinctly audible voice from God that makes clear some truth. I don’t know how closely that resembles your definition of ‘direct revelation’, but I certainly would not mind a little learning from someone who comes directly from that background.

    So, please feel free to write more about it because you have someone here who like to learn more and talk more about it.

  5. Sory it took so long to reply…been busy…

    Honestly the idea of the existance of “prophecy” (and other miraculous gifts) is such a loaded subject…there are so many different interpretations of the applicable scriptures and so many nuances to those interpretations. There’s been a little talk on the subject of “words” over at EmergingGrace recently…I think you follow Grace’s blog, but just in case, I wanted to point you thataway if the topic interests you because I think others can certainly be more comprehensive on the subject than I can. I will share my beliefs I have from personal experience, but experience is subjective and therefore difficult to defend on any technical level…not that “experiences” are indefensible, but I simply lack the skill and knowledge to do so very articulately.

    But for my 2 cents…and my thoughts here are not absolute, these are just my best understanding:

    I believe the “gift” of prophecy (as in Romans 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:10) to be “a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events” (From BlueLetterBible.com, Thayer’s Lexicon, Strong’s #4394 propheteia.)

    Likewise, I believe there exists the gift of being a “prophet” (1 Cor. 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11) to mean “one who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events, and in particular such as relate to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation” (From BlueLetterBible.com, Thayer’s Lexicon, Strong’s #4396 prophetes.)

    I will add, though, this: since there is no established determining system about “prophecy” or “Prophets”, the definition of what might constitute “prophecy” or determine at what point a person becomes a “Prophet” is subjective and varies widely among charismatics. Hence, much of the nervousness among “cessationist” Christians (I hesitate to use the word “cessationist” because it feels critical and that’s not my intent.) You said you believe “God can, and does, work that way today. I just don’t think it happens as often as some want to believe…” you and I might not be too far apart on this.

    I do think we charismatics have done a bang-up job of giving the gift of “prophecy” a bad rap…I could elaborate but I’m not gonna…I do know people who have been tremendously hurt or even spiritually abused by “Prophets”…and I don’t discount those experiences…but I also know people who have had similar experiences with “Pastors”, “Teachers” and “Elders” etc…so big picture, abuse certainly isn’t limited to “Prophets”. Therefore I don’t believe abuse of a gift disproves a gift’s existence, it only proves the fallen humanity of the gift’s holder. I can only say this because I have been there…but I have witnessed as many mature and authentic manifestations of prophecy as I have manipulation, abuse or showmanship.

    I do not believe we are all called to be comfortable with the idea of present prophecy and miraculous gifts. If we were, all heck would break loose because we’d all be lost in some experiential la-la land and there would be no one to keep us biblically grounded . Those who aren’t seeking “manifestations” as their primary contact with God generally have two feet on the ground and they help us charismatics keep our wits about us…and we apprecaite that as long we aren’t being told we’re “demonized” because we DO believe in the gift of “prophecy” and the other charis gifts. Does that make sense?

    Hope I don’t have any typo’s. Floor’s yours.

  6. Hi Jim, Thank you–thank you, I agree 1,000 % that the commincation and visions still occure–but not to those steeped in shouting from the pulpits of churchs across the planet.
    A much more reasonable logical heavenly procedure is in place and the
    visit are far and few between.
    I was not raised in the church—But I have been selected to have phrophetic dreams and visions and vosotations—
    But how do I prove it? How do I get out the sincere warnings and info
    without total all out laughter and ridicule???
    In one Dream vision I had two years ago—I saw a golden dome of a famouse mosque shattered from within by a bomb—I was abouve looking down and the action was slow motion—I saw the golden fragments turning and falling like feathers–shining in the morning sun—Each fragment had a splash of blood dripping from it—I knew then that this would ignite a Revolutionary war.
    And now it has happened–I have emails sent long ago that will substantiate my claim.
    I have had enough of these biblical warnings and experiences to fill a small book…..But I feel pressed that its vitally important that I get the information “given” to me—-out into cyber space and the most people possible quickly…..I would welcome any advice because I know nothing of blogging…I just looked up the word blog on Google and selected this site…..Thank you….BJ….

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