I have a question about a dear friend who has left the faith. When we spoke he brought to my attention that the lives of the 1st century Christians (as portrayed in the NT) look dramatically different from the lives that Christians lead today.
“…There is a fantastic element that is simply absent from the lives of church goers today, they don’t heal the sick, raise the dead, prophesy of future events… they go to church, refrain from swearing and donate to charity. Sure, Christians can pray for a supernatural intervention for their life situations, and if they feel like God is at work - they sing praise, but if it seems like He’s silent - they simply say it wasn’t God’s will. It’s always gonna be one or the other, with both being God’s will, so why pray in the first place?.. There is no way to validate that Christianity is real.”
He sees a dissonance between the bible and real life, what he expects to see from reading the Word and how it turns out. I don’t really have an answer to this question, as I might be able to see that there is a gap. If you could be in that conversation in my stead, how would you respond to these questions?
@aschwartzman7 Great question Miracles most often occurred when God was doing a new thing in history and wanted to put His stamp on it so people would know it was Him - like the Exodus, or the prophetic message of Elijah, or the life of Jesus - but actually even in Bible times the Israelites sometimes went for hundreds of years without experiencing the miraculous. Think of the 4 generations Israel spent in Egypt or the 400 silent years between the OT and NT. Even John the Baptist died in prison and had to wrestle with uncertainty about Jesus’ identity during that imprisonment and that was while Jesus was alive! The point here is that if we understand the Bible well, we would not expect miracles to occur at a constant rate throughout history. God most often uses miracles when He is doing a new thing. That is one reason missionaries may experience more of the miraculous—because God is being taken into new places where people have not heard of His name before…
Also, Jesus makes it clear that miracles cannot make someone believe in God. He says that if someone does not believe Moses and the prophets, that they will not truly believe even if a man should rise from the dead (Luke 16:31). So it is the testimony of God’s Spirit that truly converts people; not miracles. God’s goal is the salvation of humanity and miracles are not necessary to achieve that goal. What is necessary is the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Here are a few more thoughts. Christ grant you wisdom
God has revealed Himself clearly through the person of Jesus Christ and has given us His Holy Spirit to comfort and guide
God often does not answer prayers right away - even Abraham waited many years to have his beloved son Isaac - that is the nature of faith - it is the substance of things unseen. To have faith is to believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him even when we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1,6)
God reveals Himself most powerfully in the way our heart and mind are transformed as we walk with Him over the course of many years
Jesus Did Not Leave Us as Orphans - The Holy Spirit
In Christianity, God is very involved int he world! Jesus came to earth to show us how to know God and be known by Him - Jesus is ‘God with us’. And when Jesus left the disciples, He promised to send another Helper - the Holy Spirit - who would guide us into all truth. Jesus did not leave us orphans, but His Spirit guides and strengthens us as we do God’s work on the earth.
Matthew 28:20 - And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
John 14:15-21 If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.
God is Always At Work
The Bible is clear that God is at work in history, drawing men unto Himself and reaching out to them that they might know Him. At just the right time in history, God sent Jesus so that all men and women may become sons and daughters of the living God. God may not work on our time scale or in the way we want Him to, but He is always working. He is not distant or aloof from the affairs of the world.
Acts 17:26 - From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Galatians 4:4-7 - But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Thank you @SeanO for a thorough answer. The “making something new” example is a helpful one. I think, however, that he meant supernatural acts done by believers, like in 1 Corinthians 12:
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
I personally don’t know of people with such abilities. From the passage, it looks like there were quite a few gifted fellows in Corinth. What do you think? Is it because the church there was new it was blessed by the Spirit in such a way?
@aschwartzman7 My personal opinion is that during the times of the apostles God was vindicating His Son and establishing the Church through great demonstrations of His power, but that today God tends to work more through the sacrificial love of believers and their testimony as they share the Gospel. However, I would direct you to further reading on this one because I think this is a very fruitful question to think through and different Christians hold different opinions.
For me personally, I can sympathize with your friend because I do not see sufficient evidence of the miraculous to claim God is working miracles the same way today as He did in the times of the apostles. I am not a cessationist - I do believe God still does miracles, but I admit a degree of skepticism about those who claim to witness them regularly. Below is some material for additional consideration.
To anyone who was frustrated at a lack of the miraculous in the Christian life, I would point them to Jesus’ words in Luke 10:20 - “But don’t be happy because evil spirits obey you. Be happy that your names are written in heaven!” The greatest treasure we have is the life of Christ in us; not the powers or abilities of the Spirit. Acts 8:9-25 is also a good reminder that God is more concerned about our heart than that we do miracles.
The general opinion of cessationist is that:
1 - God gives miraculous gifts as a sign during times he is working in powerful ways in the world or when the Gospel is shared where it has never been heard (days of Moses, Elijah, Jesus, tribes that have never heard)
2 - Most of the claims of miracles or tongues or prophecy today do not meet the test of real scrutiny - the prophecy is fallible (in the Bible a prophet was stoned if they made a false prophecy - if they prophesied it and it did not come true that was false prophecy)
" My position falls somewhere between a cessationist and open but cautious, with a heavy amount of leaning on the former. This view comes from a few different angles:
1. Historical Observation: As I look around today and at church history I don’t see happening what I see in the early church. I don’t see people speaking in known languages, healing people completely and instantly, as well as speaking and giving new revelation from God.
2. NT Trajectory: As you read the NT it seems that in the early days of the church (cf. Acts) you have an abundance of these miraculous gifts. People are speaking in tongues, prophecy, and people are being healed. However, as time passes, the trajectory of the New Testament seems indicate these supernatural gifts are tapering off. Their function of authenticating the preaching of the word has served its purpose.*
The continuationist stresses that:
1 - God is the same today as He was in Bible times and therefore we should expect miraculous sign gifts to still be present
2 - There is no indication in Scripture that the sign gifts would cease
3 - Evidence for miracles and tongues today