Do we still need miracles today to believe?

When it comes to the division between continuationism and cessationism (whether certain gifts still exist today), one of the common mischaracterizations that I have observed continuationists make against cessationists is that cessationists believe that miracles are no longer needed.  While I do believe there are a small minority of cessationists who don’t believe in the existence of miracles, most would deny this charge and be open to the possibility that God can do whatever he wants to win people to himself.

I think a big part of the problem is how a miracle is defined.  I have found that typically when my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters contend that miracles exist, what they are really saying is the demonstration of signs and wonders as seen in Acts are to be expected such that they are needed to 1) believe the gospel and 2) demonstrate empowerment by the Holy Spirit.  But a miracle can be defined more broadly as something out of the ordinary. So we need to ask what we mean by miracles still existing.

Now the cessationist would say that the miracles demonstrated in Acts were done to demonstrate that the validity of the apostlic testimony concerning Christ. After all, the record of the Old Testament shows that when God did something new, previously unrevealed, he did so with miraculous events. God was doing a new thing by bringing both Jew and Gentile together as one body through the sacrificial death of His Son (Ephesians 2:13-16; 3:1-7) marked by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).  Jews considered themselves the privilege group and Greeks were accustomed to pagan worship and sought after knowledge.  Both groups needed to experience something out of the ordinary to know that what was being proclaimed through the apostles witness was real.  But once the New Testament church was implemented, the body of Christ grew and the message spread, there was less reliance on these types of miracles for validation.

The same goes for New Testament prophecy. As I wrote about in Prophecy vs. New Testament prophecy, NT prophecy was God exhorting the church through the foundation he already laid. 

New Testament prophecies were proclaiming what the testimony of the apostles meant for the church. Keep in mind that during the New Testament accounts, the church had the Old Testament Scriptures, the testimony of the apostles and the word of the prophets. There was not a completed Bible. However, a holistic understanding of God’s self-revelation to humanity will see that the foundation of Old Testament provided the basis for what would be fulfilled in Christ, who completely and ultimately expresses the mind, will, character and plan of God. All New Testament activity portrayed in the epistles must rightly find their place in what God has done through the Son.

New Testament prophets were affirming the apostle’s testimony concerning the risen Christ and what this means for the church. We have this sure word in a completed canon of Scripture.

Now the non-cessationist  would say there is no prescription for the miraculous ceasing and therefore we cannot “put God in a box.” Another common support for expectation of the miraculous is Jesus declaration to the apostles that they will do “greater works” (John 14:12). Since Jesus performed extraordinary events, the apostles should do that also and by implication any disciple of Christ since that time.  God moved that way then and he should move that way now. To not do so might indicate an anemic church.

But I do believe this misses the point of what Jesus was saying.  The entirety of John’s gospel was to demonstrate who Jesus was – the Son of God, the Word made flesh who dwelt among men.  The miracles he did were to show why he was to be believed, which is supported by John 20:30-31 “these things were written so that you would believe”.  Therefore, everything he did was for the purpose of belief. This was the point all along – to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The greater works were not necessarily the miracles that Jesus performed but that the message concerning him would spread in ways he could not do during His earthly ministry, especially after his resurrection and ascension to heaven.

So that leads back to the question: do we still need miracles today for belief?  I would say yes but not necessarily in the manner it occurred in the New Testament.  The church of the New Testament did not have access to what we have today nor was the message so prolific as it is.  If we insist on out of the ordinary occurrences to happen, then it implies what we have, what God has given us already is insufficient.  Moreover, it sets believers up to always expect something out of the ordinary to happen and conditions them for excitement. It negates the quiet working of the Holy Spirit who moves on hardened hearts to motivate a response to the gospel and dismisses any lack of physical expressions as failure of the Holy Spirit’s work.  An over-reliance on physical expressions will possibly make faith rest with the occurrences rather than the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of people both to accept the gospel and to live it out.  And that was never the intention of the miraculous.

Now, I am not saying that miracles don’t happen or that God will not use them to reach someone. And let’s please dispense with the ridiculous notion that cessationism means God doesn’t heal any more. Of course he does! But I do believe the out of ordinary events are not necessarily the events themselves but the impact of God’s work to bring somebody to himself and sanctify them.  Sometimes that will take extraordinary events but more likely, it will not.  The incarnation of God the Son, his death, burial and resurrection, the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the intricately woven testimony of the prophets and apostles WAS the event that sets precedent for God’s working throughout salvation history.  That IS the miracle that is needed to believe and live out faith, as 2 Peter 1:3 indicates…”His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.”  Everything else is just gravy.


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