In part 1 of this article we saw that the Bible fits best with the view that God wants to keep using Christians in miracle work until Jesus returns.
In this second part I will move on to look at objections made by those Christians who deny that we should seek to work miracles today. I am confident that each objection can be adequately answered.
The usefulness of miracles
There some Christians who say that it is not God’s will to work miracles today because they are unnecessary. They agree that God used miracles in the first century to help the church get up and running. But they claim that once the church was well established, miracles had outlived their usefulness, so God stopped performing them.
This argument is completely misguided:
First, the argument seems to start from the assumption that God wants to do the minimum amount of miracle work possible. But why would we assume this? There is no good reason.
Second, the book of Acts makes it clear that in the first century, miracles were used massively by God to build His church. He used them to make evangelism more successful and to build up those who were already saved. See, e.g., Acts 2:1-13, 41; 3:1-4:4; 4:31; 5:1-11; 8:5-8; 9:1-22, 32-35, 36-42.
There is absolutely no reason for thinking that miracles should have a different result today. As far as their effectiveness is concerned, the fact that the church is now well established is beside the point.
Third, the New Testament strongly suggests that most miracles in the early church were healing miracles. And a large part of God’s motivation for performing these was certainly because He loved people and wanted to free them from various afflictions. But God obviously has the same love for people who are afflicted today.
To sum up this section, then, there are very good reasons for thinking that miracles today would, at least in many circumstances, be extremely useful.
Church history and miracles
Some Christians argue against the existence of miracles in our day by appealing to church history. The argument goes in this way:
If God continued working miracles throughout the church age, we would expect Him to have done this as often as He did in the first century. However, it cannot be denied that there have been relatively few claims of miracles in the following centuries as compared to the first century. Therefore, this suggests that the claims there have been were all fakes or wishful thinking.
It is surely true that for at least most of the church age there have been relatively few reports of miracles as compared to the first century. However, there are two important points to make here.
First, the Bible often makes receiving things from God conditional upon believing. The believing is very important. So when a Christian doesn’t believe that God wants to give a gift of some sort, it seems that God would very probably not give that gift, even if He wanted to. I would suggest that part of the reason why there has been a lack of miracles throughout church history is because most Christians wrongly believed that God had no desire to give them the ability to work miracles.
Second, we need to recognise that the Holy Spirit is thoroughly mysterious. And it is a mistake to claim that He must have chosen to do things in more or less the same amounts in each century of the church.
In 1 Samuel 3:1 we are told that when Samuel was a boy, ‘the word of the LORD was rare in those days’. Similarly, I think that even under post-Pentecost, New Covenant conditions, it is not all that surprising if there is considerable variation in how much the Spirit operates supernaturally from time to time.
That is not to say that over the centuries God has been inconsistent in His requirements or promises. In all centuries of the church He has wanted Christians to seek the ability to work miracles. And in all centuries His biblical promises of healing in response to faith have stood, as, for example, in James 5:14-16. But even so, I think this still allows room for considerable variety in how many miracles the Spirit performs at different times.
The Reformation and miracles
Another argument that is sometimes made by those who say that miracles are not for today appeals to the Reformation.
The principle Reformers in the 16th century, most notably Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, believed that God stopped working miracles in the first century. Because these men were giants of the faith, it is argued, it makes sense to think that their views on miracle work were correct.
It is true that the Reformation was extremely helpful in some respects. But to assume that the Reformers were correct on everything of importance cannot be right for the simple reason that they differed among themselves on a number of key issues.
There are unfortunately many evangelicals today who follow certain people in church history without questioning their beliefs nearly enough. This is really a form of idolatry and it should be avoided. What matters is what the Bible teaches, not what certain Christians leaders have believed in the past.
Abuses do not mean that miracles are wrong in themselves
Sometimes those who deny the place of miracles today refer to abuses in the church to try to make their case. They point to examples of where claims of miracles were surely wrong. And they also point to false teaching, such as the so-called prosperity gospel, that is often held by Christians who say that the church should be working miracles today.
It is doubtless true that there are many false claims of miracles in the church in our day. And it is true too that churches that are interested in miracles often have some seriously wrong ideas about things. I am also sure that sometimes devout Christians who are trying to submit to God’s will in miracle work make mistakes in how they go about things.
But to say that abuses and mistakes show that all miracle work is invalid today makes no sense. By the same logic, we should avoid anything that is abused or about which mistakes are sometimes made.
For example, teaching from the Bible is something that is massively abused in our day. Every Sunday there are thousands of so-called Christian pastors worldwide who say they are teaching from the Bible, but who are actually promoting heresy in one way or another.
But this doesn’t mean that all teaching from the Bible is false! It doesn’t mean that pastors on a Sunday should abandon giving biblical instruction to their flocks! And the same applies to miracles. To say that abuses and mistakes mean that there is no place for miracles today is illogical.
Wherever there is something that is from God, Satan will almost always try to counterfeit it. He will also tempt Christians into using gifts, including the ability to work miracles, in ways that are less than edifying. And part of what it means to be a fallen human being is to make mistakes. So even Christians with good intentions and motivations can get things wrong at times.
Therefore, bad reports surrounding miracle work in no way mean that God doesn’t want Christians to work miracles today.
This is not a matter of variation between churches
Sometimes Christians who accept that God works miracles today seem to have an attitude something like this:
Some churches work miracles and others don’t. It’s just a different way of living out the Christian life. We shouldn’t expect a great God to be uniform in His dealings with His children. Therefore Christians and churches are under no obligation to seek the ability to work miracles.
There is a huge mistake here:
First, as we saw in part 1 of this article, the Bible actually commands all Christians to desire spiritual gifts, including the ability to work miracles.
Second, there is wrong thinking here about variation in the church. Certainly, we can expect variety in how God deals with His children. But not in terms of whether we should seek the ability to work miracles. Miracles, and the other gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, are not just a minor issue, a kind of decoration that a church might or might not have. Miracles are spiritual high explosive against the powers of darkness. If you are in any doubt about this, just have a read through the book of Acts. The power for building the early church that came through miracles was enormous. And there is no reason whatsoever for believing that it should be any less today.
Those who see miracles, and other gifts of the Spirit, as one way, among others, of living out the Christian faith have not begun to grasp what these things are all about. Not using the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 is a bit like an army in a fierce fight to the death leaving some of its heavy weaponry in storage. It makes no sense at all.
There are other arguments that are sometimes used to support the view that God doesn’t want to use Christians to work miracles today. But I have listed the most important of them. In short, none of the objections convinces.
In part 3 I will move on to speak about testimony of miracles.