Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Signs and Wonders

I would like to take a moment to address the topic of spiritual gifts, especially as they relate to the concept of “spiritual revival.” The idea of a revival is to create or instill a resurgence of vigor into the lifeblood of the church; to renew man’s interest and worship of a holy God. It is to bring to mind our need of the salvation offered through Jesus Christ, His sufficient payment that was made for us at the cross, and the longsuffering of God when dealing with sinful men who constantly reject God’s will for them in their lives. A genuine revival should entail the preaching of the gospel in no uncertain terms, and utterly unadulterated. A revival should stir the blood of every born again believer to remember that we have been cleansed from our old sins and raised to newness of life; we are citizens of Heaven, and as such we should walk circumspectly on this earth, endeavoring on our part to fulfill the Great Commission that our Lord gave us. A revival should accentuate the unity of the Christian church without compromising the truth which is its very cornerstone: that Christ alone is our Savior; that He vouchsafed eternal life for those who believe, and that He dispenses this salvation to whomever He wills by virtue of the convicting and convincing power of God the Holy Spirit. Compromise of doctrinal foundations and truths for the sake of unity must be spurned, because God’s holiness is in all truth, and if we desire the authority and working of the Holy Spirit to enliven and empower our preaching, then we must present the gospel as God intended it to be heard, and leave the reaction of those who hear the word preached to God. He saves fallen men; not us.

Mighty revivals occurred during the days of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), George Whitefield (1714-1770), and John Wesley (1703-1791). But such revivals did not have the same flavor or appearance as today’s revivals go. The revivals of yesteryear had spiritually gifted and empowered men preaching the word of God undiluted from the Bible, pointing and leading men to Jesus Christ the Savior. They preached of man’s peril of an eternal Hell without God, and of man’s utter powerlessness to save himself. As George Whitefield exclaimed in one of his sermons, “I suppose many of you are unconverted and graceless. Go home! Get away to your closets and down with your stubborn hearts before God,” (from Marks of a True Conversion.) Such revivals were born on the wings of the Holy Spirit’s gracious and superintending influence; if there were converts while such men preached, it was not them, but God operating in the hearts of those who received the word that brought about new life. Such men were vessels; God used them to convict men of their sin and their need to repent and believe the gospel or suffer eternal condemnation for dying in unbelief. For further interest I would suggest reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” by Jonathan Edwards. It is sober and powerful.

Today’s trend towards revival seems to follow a far different path, however. There is an inordinate accentuation on the physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the church. These are expressed as speaking in tongues or laying on hands to heal; even being slain in the spirit or holy laughter. The latter two being new to the scene and largely introduced through the Charismatic movement have no biblical precedent, and in fact violate numerous Scriptures about how members of the church ought to conduct themselves. Paul explains that everything ought to be done decently, and in order, 1st Corinthians 14:40. Spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church, 1st Corinthians 14:12. Tongues were only permitted in the church if another could interpret what had been spoken; implying that the gift of tongues is indeed a real language, otherwise foreign to the speaker, 1st Corinthians 14:27-28. The spirits of prophets (anyone edifying the church) are subject to the prophets, 1st Corinthians 14:32. Note that prophecy does not strictly mean telling the future. The Old Testament prophets expounded the word of the Lord to Israel, and as a seal of their authority and election, would give prophecies of the future to verify that they were truly sent by God, Deuteronomy 18:21-22.

The Bible in fact speaks of a time when certain spiritual gifts will vanish. Paul says, “Whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away (same Greek word “fail” is used for “vanish away.”) For we know in part and we prophesy in part (while useful to the church at that time for determining who had the indwelling Holy Spirit, the church did not have the New Testament to rely upon.) But when that which is perfect (Greek means “finished”) has come, then that which is in part will be done away,” 1st Corinthians 13:8-10. The church awaited the conclusion of God’s revealed word through the Holy Spirit; at which time the emphasis shifted, not to who could speak in tongues or lay on hands, but who was faithful to God’s written word and kept it, Luke 11:28; 1st Timothy 4:6; 2nd Timothy 4:1-3. Signs and wonders do not necessarily inspire faith and cannot save, John 12:37; they will not bring anyone into the church for the right reasons and in fact are not meant to attract the unsaved, 1st Corinthians 14:22-25.

Why would outward manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power be removed from the church? For one, the emphasis is shifted from preaching the gospel and converting the lost, to reveling in what amazing thing the Holy Spirit will do through us next. When Paul reasoned with Felix he did not resort to signs and wonders, but preached the gospel with the clarity, conviction, and power the Holy Spirit provided; and Felix trembled with fear, Acts 24:25. Likewise revivals become showmanship and sensationalism, where the content and doctrine of salvation, election, justification, sanctification and the like are downplayed or dismissed in favor of tangible evidence of the Spirit’s work. But without doctrine via the Bible to rely on and refer to, there is no way even to know that such manifestations are of God, the devil, or pure delusion. Can the devil perform miracles? He translated Jesus to the pinnacle of a mountain, Matthew 4:8. He cast fire down from Heaven on Job’s flocks and destroyed them, Job 1:16. Satan has the power to transform himself into an angel of light, 2nd Corinthians 11:14. Paul tells us that when the Antichrist appears it is, “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,” 2nd Thessalonians 2:9. Satan can deceive very easily, and especially those enthralled by signs and wonders, Matthew 24:24.

God grant us a revival; But not on these terms. Such a revival would be horrendous, damaging and deprecating to the Christian faith like few other things have the potential to be. We need a revival of staunch fundamental teaching, the gospel in its glory and simplicity, taught by men who are led by the Spirit, and taught by the word of God. Then God’s name will be glorified, Christ will be exalted, the Holy Spirit will have the authority He deserves in His own professing church, and souls will be saved. Otherwise we are courting a revival of global apostasy. God bless those who read, to judge my words with a fair and impartial heart.

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