TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

23 August 2016

When the miracles stopped. Oh wait; they didn’t.

God never stopped doing miracles. But you’d never know it to listen to some Christians.

Cessationist /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.ist/ adj. Believing miracles happened in bible times, and may happen in future, but currently don’t.
2. Believing miracles happened at some point in the past, but don’t now.
3. Believing miracles never happened; that all biblical descriptions of them are exaggerations, fantasies, or misreports.
[Cessationism /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.iz.əm/ n.]

When you read the bible, you’ll notice there are an awful lot of miracles in it.

Jesus performed many. So’d the prophets of the Old Testament. Since Jesus empowers his followers with the Holy Spirit, Ac 2.38-39 same as himself Ac 10.38 and the Old Testament prophets, Zc 7.12 he told his students they’d perform miracles just like his. Potentially even greater than his Jn 14.12 —which arguably his apostles did do, in Acts.

Certainly the world should be filled with more miracles, just on the basis of pure numbers. Instead of only one Jesus of Nazareth, limited to the Galilee or Jerusalem or wherever else he walked, every Christian everywhere should be able to prophesy, cure the sick, and perform wonders on a Jesus-level scale. And I could spend today ranting about why this isn’t the case (lack of faith; duh) but today I’m gonna touch upon only one part of the problem: Christians who believe this shouldn’t be the case.

Because, they insist, miracles don’t happen anymore. God no longer empowers them. Miracles ceased. It’s why we call ’em cessationists. We find ’em all over Christendom. They come in all sorts, but I’m gonna lump ’em into four primary categories.

Four types of cessationists.

Soft cessationists. Or so they actually call themselves.

What they mean by “soft cessationism” is they’re not entirely cessationist. They believe miracles can happen. They don’t wanna unequivocally declare there are no more miracles. God’s almighty. He can do anything he wants. All things are possible with him. That includes miracles. So they’re never gonna rule out miracles altogether. They’re not stupid.

But they are gonna equivocate all over the place: “God totally can, if he wants. But he doesn’t.”

On what basis do they say he doesn’t? Reasonable doubt.

See, those of us who do believe in miracles: We totally suck at basic spiritual discernment. We let way too much slide. Too many fake prophets, who have track records lower than MLB batting averages, are given a free pass to keep right on prophesying to our churches, and we keep going to their conferences and buying their books. Too many people shout out, “I’m healed!” but never get the miracle confirmed by actual doctors, and often turn out to be just as sick as before. Or it’s some internet rumor which some evildoer invented and spread, just to see how far the story will go, and of course it fools the elect, who never bother to fact-check it, and keep spreading it around.

So I totally understand why many Christians are soft cessationists. They’ve seen so many fake miracles, they’re not sure about any of them. It’s the very same reason there are agnostics: Too many wormy apples makes you think the whole basket is wormy.

Honestly, I’d be on this team myself if God hadn’t spoken to me. Or had prophets confirm he spoke to me. Or healed me. Or got me to speak in tongues. I’ve personally experienced miracles. I don’t entirely know about the other miracles Christians have testified to, but I definitely know about my experiences. It’s why I joined the Pentecostals.

So I give soft cessationists some slack for not believing. Of course they don’t believe; they haven’t seen. It’s awesome when you don’t see, and believe anyway, Jn 20.29 but let’s not ask the impossible of ’em. That’s not our job anyway. That’s the Holy Spirit’s.

Darbyists. Most people call John Nelson Darby’s loopy system of beliefs “premillennial dispensationalism,” but that’s a mouthful, and doesn’t allow for the fact there are plenty of Christians who are premillennial (like me) yet believe way different things about the End; or are dispensationalist (I’m not) and also believe way different things about dispensations. Darby’s system is unique, so I refer to it by its inventor.

I’ve elsewhere brought up his wack theories about the End Times, and it’s largely based on cessationism. Y’see, the reason Darby said all the End Time prophecies have to be fulfilled in the final seven years before Jesus returns, is because they can’t happen while God has the miracles deactivated. Once they’re re-activated, all the events can finally happen in a seven-year maelstrom of wrath and death and nastiness.

So why’d God turn off the miracles in the present day? Ask a Darbyist, and nine times out of ten they’ll tell you it’s because miracles draw way too much attention away from the bible.

No, I’m not kidding. Wish I were.

Apparently God doesn’t want a personal relationship with people: He wants us to know him by proxy. That proxy would be the bible. (Not the Holy Spirit. He’s totally there, but it appears his only job is to nudge us to read bible, and make us feel “aha moments” whenever we do.) Till the bible was completed—till “when that which is perfect is come,” 1Co 13.10 KJV which Darbyists insist refers to when the bible got finished, and not when Jesus returns—God settled for revealing himself by speaking through prophets, He 1.1 and by performing the occasional miracle. But all that is past. In these last days, he spoke through the Son. He 1.2 And then, Darbyists claim, once John finished Revelation and the canon was closed, God stopped speaking. No more prophecy. Nor miracles.

I know, right? But this is why Darbyists dismiss any stories they hear about miracles. With one exception: When they hear missionary stories about miracles, sometimes they let these stories slide. Y’see, they figure the people these missionaries are working with have no bible in the local language. (Or no native bible that’s been properly translated, by which they mean based on the KJV.) Without a bible, how can they have that close personal relationship with God the bible? So till they get a proper bible, preferably with Darby or Scofield’s notes, God temporarily turns the miracles back on.

But once they get bibles, God can turn the miracles back off. ’Cause supposedly that’s better. Though if it were me, much as I love the bible, I’d much rather have God cure people of AIDS from time to time. Just sayin’.

Cessationists. Not the soft kind: This is the usual sort, which you’ll find among Christians who have nothing to do with Darby and his acolytes. Unlike the soft cessationists, who accept God might do miracles if he so chooses, these folks insist God absolutely does not. Miracles stopped. Period. May not even turn ’em back on at the End; that’s how done they are.

What about all the testimonies of miracles you hear among Christians? Well, in this, the cessationists follow the example of the Pharisee scribes of Mark 3.22. (Though they’re kinda in denial that this is what they’re doing.)

Mark 3.22 KWL
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He uses Baal Chebul.
He overthrows demons by the demons’ leader.”

Yep: If any Christian claims to prophesy, heal, or throw out demons, they’re faking it. And if there’s any supernatural power to be seen, it’s either the product of electronics… or devils. Because if God absolutely doesn’t do miracles anymore, it can’t be God.

So, like atheists, cessationists are pretty confident they’re correct. A little insanely confident, considering they’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Clearly I’m not one of those Christians who waffle, “They’re coming awfully close to blaspheming him.” Nope; they’re full-on blaspheming him. They’re calling the Holy Spirit the devil. If you don’t consider that blasphemy, man are you screwed.

On what basis do they insist miracles stopped? Well, a lot of ’em use the very same out-of-context verses the Darbyists use. Both camps borrow from one another to justify this belief. But their usual arguments don’t actually come from verses. They hit these bullet points—which are so easy to smack away like gnats, I did so after each of ’em.

  • God only granted miracles to the prophets and apostles—but there are no more prophets and apostles. They only existed in the first century, to get the church started Ep 2.20-22 and write the bible. They did their job, and God appointed no replacements. So when they passed, so did the miracles.
  • (Most of the reason cessationists insist these jobs died out in the first century, is they refuse to believe Jesus makes any new ones. You know, like he made Paul an apostle, Ac 26.13-18 even though Paul wasn’t one of the Twelve.

    Most of their argument is, “Well, the canon’s closed. God isn’t writing any more bible. So why would he need prophets?” Same reason he needed ’em in the Old Testament, even though he wasn’t issuing any more Law: To tell people to follow his Law. And today, to show us grace and point us towards Jesus.)

  • God only granted miracles for the purpose of confirming the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and his apostles, as valid messengers of God. Job’s done, so miracles are done.
  • (Flawed premise. God granted the miracles for the purpose of doing the miracles. Sometimes validation was his motive; Jg 6.36-38 sometimes a secondary motive; Jn 7.31 sometimes a frustrated motive; Jn 12.37 sometimes not a motive at all, but only because God is faithful even though we aren’t. Ro 3.3 And even if the premise were true, the job of validating God’s servants is hardly done.)

  • The “miracles” which take place today, look nothing like the miracles which took place in the bible. Speaking in tongues back then were always actual foreign languages; look at the babble we call “tongues” nowadays! Prophets back then were always infallible; look at the crappy track records of “prophets” nowadays! Charismatic churches don’t bother to follow the bible’s commands on miraculous gifts; therefore we doubt ’em all.
  • (Okay, that crack about the prophets nowadays is fair. Still: Cessationists claim only they know what bible-times miracles looked like—and because present-day miracles don’t look the same, they reject the miracles instead of their deficient imaginations.

    They also claim since Christians perform miracles irresponsibly, God must not be empowering them. Forgetting the entire point of 1 Corinthians 12-14 was to correct the Corinthians for performing them irresponsibly. If it’s impossible to do ’em wrong, there’d have been nothing for Paul to correct.)

  • Church history: The church fathers, like John Chrysostom and Augustine, said the miracles stopped. So there you go. Over and over, we have testimonies of the miracles ending.
  • (And over and over again, we have way more testimonies of miracles. It’s not our fault the cessationists refuse to believe any of ’em. Even from Augustine: In his City of God he wrote an entire chapter about the miracles of his day. But just as there have always been miracles, there’ve always been cessationists.)

But it doesn’t really matter I can poke holes in all their explanations. These aren’t the real reasons cessationists reject miracles. Their real reasons vary:

  • Some grew up cessationist, and think that’s what they’re supposed to believe.
  • Some are anti-supernatural. Really, they can barely swallow the miracles in the bible. They’re kinda suspending disbelief in those. But they really won’t abide present-day miracles. Those, their churches let ’em get away with rejecting with naked contempt.
  • Some used to believe in miracles, but got burned by frauds. Now they trust none of them.
  • Some would like to believe… but they’re afraid that means they’d have to turn charismatic. And charismatics are just too weird for them.

Much easier for them to believe God stopped doing miracle altogether, and abandoned his people.

No, cessationists would never describe it as abandonment. After all, God left us with one another! And bibles.

But imagine a baby, abandoned on the doorstep of a loving family, with a note attached to it. Imagine that baby grows up, finds her birth mother, and asks, “Why’d you abandon me?” Birth mom replies, “I didn’t! I left you with a family. I left you with a note.” Yeah… but she left. Doesn’t matter how she spins the story; it’s still abandonment.

Same with cessationists. God said he’d never abandon us. He 13.5 They say he has—but they won’t use that word because they invented some new definition of “abandonment” which means it’s not really, so long that we have bibles and fellow Christians.

Meh.

Materialists. Lastly we have the folks who don’t believe God ever did miracles. He didn’t just turn them off; he never did any to begin with.

What about the miracles in the bible? Well, the bible’s describing them wrong. There are natural explanations for everything. When God parted the Red Sea, it didn’t happen supernaturally; the wind blew all night, and uncovered a shallow land bridge which the Hebrews could cross. When the Hebrews saw a pillar of cloud and fire, they were really just seeing the plume of an active volcano. When Jesus came back from the dead, he hadn’t really died; he fainted on the cross and the cold tomb revived him. (Oh, and he hadn’t really been stabbed in the heart by a Roman who was making sure he was dead.) Everything in the bible has a perfectly rational explanation.

Well, except the fact everyone was apparently lying about all the miracles they claimed to have seen. And lying when they said they couldn’t help but believe, now that they’d seen. And lying when they pointed to the miracles and told people to trust them, at least. Jn 10.38 Lying or seriously self-delusional; but lying is the far simpler explanation, and would turn the bible into lies, top to bottom. You know, like the atheists say.

This being the case, I really don’t understand why materialists continue to consider themselves Christian. Unless it’s ’cause they just like the trappings—but utterly lack the faith.

Continuationism?

Continuationist /kən.tɪn.ju'eɪ.ʃən.ist/ adj. Believes miracles occur, same as they did in bible times.

Continuationist is the word cessationists coined for the rest of us Christians who still believe in miracles. They think miracles ceased; we think they continued.

’Cause they did. The New Testament was clearly written to people whom the apostles expected to keep doing miracles. And kept by Christians who clearly saw no need to remove the books, like 1 Corinthians, which instruct us on how to perform miracles: What to do, what not to do, to do ’em in the fruit of the Spirit, to do ’em in love. That chapter on love which people keep quoting at weddings? 1Co 13 Paul wrote it to instruct the Corinthians on how to do miracles.

The early church is full of miracle stories. So’s the medieval church. The Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have a long tradition of miracles. In fact, an early Christian complaint about the Jews was how many of them were cessationist—whereas God was regularly performing miracles among us Christians.

Other than heretic sects, the first real cessationist groups arose after the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants inventoried and critiqued everything the Catholics did. Including the tendency (as humans do) to accept any miracle they heard about, no matter how implausible. Catholics are a lot stricter about such things now, but back then they were as bad as charismatics. Some Protestants got to the point they wouldn’t accept any miracle the Catholics claimed had happened. Well, happened outside the bible.

The Protestant theologians’ new dependence on the bible likewise meant many of ’em concluded they didn’t need miracles. Miracles require way more faith than bible. And the philosophy of the French and Scottish Enlightenment—with its emphasis on materialism, on what we can rationally believe, on absolute dismissal of the things we can’t—trickled into Protestant churches over time. Scottish philosopher David Hume didn’t believe in miracles at all, and his materialism impacted both Presbyterian and Puritan thinking.

The Puritans in North America—the Congregationalists—chose to reject any present-day miracles. (Some rejected even orthodox Christianity as well: They became Unitarian.) They didn’t see any miracles among them, so they presumed their time had passed. As Presbyterian theologian Jonathan Edwards put it in his Notes on the Bible:

…the gift of prophecy and tongues, etc. ceased at the end of the church‘s age of childhood, but charity remains when the elder age of the church comes, and when it shall put away childish things. Notes at 1Co 13.8-12

And that was that. The supernatural was “childish.” We are so much more mature and evolved nowadays.

This is precisely the fruitless attitude I regularly run into among cessationists. Yes, there are many cessationists who remember they’re Christian, and try to act like Jesus commands. But the ones who decide they wanna argue, critique, condemn: They don’t do fruit. They’re the ones who mock us as immature Christians who chase after miracles like kids chasing soap bubbles. It’s the same attitude we find in militant atheists, who insist religion itself is for the feeble-minded. Cessationism just happens to be the way Christians get to behave like arrogant jerks towards “continuationists,” and mock the rest of us for believing in seers and faith healers.

Dealing with cessationists.

Since cessationists are coming at miracles from the very same angle nontheists are coming at God, I find it easiest to lump ’em together. As I said above: The reason they don’t believe, is either ’cause they used to believe, but got burned; or ’cause they lack experiences. They never saw a miracle, or think they never saw a miracle; they figured out how to rationalize it away.

The solution to their problem? You don’t need to argue ’em into believing in miracles. Arguments won’t work anyway. They’re usually dead-set in their convictions. What we gotta do is discombobulate them: Stick to testimonies. You’ve seen miracles; share those stories. You’ve heard God; talk about what he’s told you. If God’s talking to you at the time, go right ahead and prophesy over ’em. Nothing flummoxes a cessationist like hearing a prophecy about ’em that’s totally true—and made up of information the prophet can’t possibly know.

Now, I’ve been told we shouldn’t do this. ’Cause Jesus arguably didn’t do it. When people demanded a miraculous sign from him, he didn’t waste his time with them. Mk 8.12 I point out, though, that Jesus knew he was dealing with stiff-necked people who wouldn’t change their minds, no matter what he showed ’em. Whereas we don’t know we’re dealing with such people—unless we already know them, or their track record, or the Holy Spirit clues us in. (Discernment, folks!)

I also remind you: Jesus’s student Thomas insisted he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’s resurrection till he saw Jesus for himself. And Jesus did come though on that one. Jn 20.24-29 God doesn’t mind verifying himself through further miracles—when he knows it’s not gonna fall upon deaf ears and blind eyes. When the Holy Spirit empowers us to go for it, do. What’s the harm in taking the shot? Okay, your cessationist may nonetheless stubbornly insist on not believing, but the people you ministered to get to experience God’s healing and love and grace. And best case: They do believe.

Still, don’t be surprised when you show ’em something really impressive, and it doesn’t faze them whatsoever. Lots of cessationists are that kind of stubborn. Remember, they’ve been blaspheming the Spirit for years. Perform any miracle in front of ’em, and most of the time cessationists are just gonna do blaspheme him again: They’ll claim the devil was behind it. Yes, even exorcisms. That’s how stiff-necked they get.

I suspect that’s the reason people say don’t try out a miracle on them: They’re afraid cessationists will blaspheme the Spirit—and it’ll send ’em to hell. I already explained why blasphemy doesn’t work that way: It’s only permanent with the persistently unrepentant. Paul almost certainly blasphemed the Spirit 1Ti 1.13 before Jesus turned him around; and here’s a chance for him to turn them around too. I say take it.