Q&A: Reformed Folks and Miracles?

Reformed Folks and Miracles?

Question

I stumbled upon your article "Do Miracles Happen Today," and I was stirred to write to you. I enjoyed your article and the faith that you displayed. I would like to know what you think of the thoughts that crossed my mind. A lot of this stuff I am writing to you I can't ask pastors I know as it may be discouraging to them.

As of two years ago, God has been using my family to bring healing to people in Jesus name. I witness miracles all the time. Just yesterday, a gentleman at Costco said the pain in his hip left after praying a simple prayer in Jesus name. He told me he visited an acupuncturist and a chiropractor within the last day, and they were not able to help his pain... BUT Jesus showed up and healed him.

I understand your article allows for that, but I have one more tidbit to add. My family and I have been sent by God to a particular campground to bring the love of God. We were sent by just God, and we have moved around a lot over the last two and a half years and no longer feel as if we have a home church. We arrived back here to another part of Virginia just a few months ago. As I was praying last week about getting credibility at the campground so that people would respect us as missionaries. I was bringing the concept before the Lord of teaming up with a ministry organization such as CRU, Navigators, YWAM, FamilyLife, or one of the local churches.

God was clear. He told me two things. First he said, do you want my credibility or their credibility? Then, it flashed in my mind what happened when Jesus sent out the 72 - the signs and wonders. I said, "I want your credibility Lord!" That was a no brainer. The Lord has already worked through me to cast demons out of a young man at the campground. Then he also told me, who do want to show up? Do you want such and such a church to show up, or do you want me to show up? Of course I would rather have God show up!

After reading your article, what ran through my head is the following: the desire for the established denominational authorities to stay in power much like the Pharisees. I don't have some grandiose idea that I am like one of the 12, but I do think that God can use ALL Christians who are walking in the Spirit and growing in their relationship with their Father to give more revelation of God's love to the world (authoritative spokesman). This would be an all out revival. I think if established authorities in denominations accepted that Christian call, then it would take authority away from them. Thus, there is the need from church leaders for justification that we can't walk in the miraculous to keep the status quo. Especially since, much like the Pharisees, not many leaders in our churches today walk in this type of love, and they have explained away the reason why their lives lack miracles, evidence of love, and/or the resemblance to Jesus.

I think it will be hard for me to find a church since I hold leadership to such a high standard. I want to know the leaders of the church I attend are walking in love. People who meet these leaders should be transformed through love just from their lives lived before people and without even a foot stepped on a pulpit. Most of the time, I see that they are checking a God box with ministry and it is a job to put out head knowledge.

Also, I was thinking of dumping the ESV bible due to the heavy reformed influence because I find most reformed-like Christians believe in only three miracles: Incarnation, resurrection, and regeneration of souls. I find their Christianity lacking in any power.

Hopefully I am not too harsh. I know we have never met, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

God bless,

Answer

Thanks for writing! It sounds like God is moving in your life. I pray that the Spirit's power gives you opportunities and words to heal souls and bodies alike.

It's true that many church leaders -whether or not their churches belong to denominations - aren't manifesting the Spirit's power in their lives. It's also true that many of them don't even preach the gospel. Many of the "mainline" churches (the largest denominations) are no longer evangelical. They don't believe or preach the atoning death of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc. In places that the gospel isn't preached, we may be justified in denying them the name "church."

But in many other cases, pastors are really trying to be godly men. They also believe in miracles, even if they don't believe in the continuation of gifts like healing. I would suggest that this is largely the case in Reformed circles. Evangelical Reformed churches (as opposed to mainline Reformed churches like the PCUSA) believe strongly in miracles- not just the ones in Scripture, but also modern ones. But most of them are cessationists when it comes to the more spectacular charismatic gifts. They don't deny the miraculous Spirit's power. They simply believe that the Bible teaches that the Spirit no longer chooses to work in those ways. This is the predominant understanding of Scripture in most Evangelical churches. The Pentecostal and Charismatic Evangelical traditions are exceptions in this regard.

It's also important to recognize that the church offices of leadership are given by the Christ, and that the people who hold those offices are typically spiritually gifted for those offices (Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12). Those pastoral gifts are just as important - and just as powerful - as the more spectacular gifts like healing. Gifts like evangelism, preaching and teaching are arguably even more important, since the spectacular gifts are given primarily as signs that confirm the truth of the gospel message. In any case, all the gifts are necessary, valuable, and powerful. And it's the Spirit who decides which gifts we get, so we shouldn't condemn leaders simply because they don't manifest the gifts we prefer.

Moreover, church offices are valid even when the people holding them are unworthy (or even unbelievers!). This was the heart of the Donatist controversy that Augustine dealt with in the early centuries of the church. We see the same idea in play when David refused to attack Saul because Saul was the Lord's anointed (1 Sam. 24:6). It's also evident in Paul's reaction to the high priest Ananias (Acts 23:2-5). So, please don't allow ungodly pastors to cause you to avoid church membership. The centrality of local church membership in the New Testament is clear, and so is our obligation to participate in it (Heb. 10:24-25).

At the same time, it's true that no local church is the entire body of Christ. If you're in a local church, you don't have to stay in that one. And I'm not suggesting that you should put yourself under the authority of ungodly or untrustworthy church leaders when there are better churches around. But I am saying that being in a poor church is generally better than being in no church. Besides, you'll probably never find a church that agrees with you entirely - and you shouldn't want one. After all, we're all wrong about something. A church that never disagrees with you is a church that isn't going to sharpen your iron with its own, and that isn't going to correct you when (not if!) you fall into error. And even our spiritual gifts were given "for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:7), referring to the good of the visible church. If our gifts don't benefit the church, then we aren't using them rightly. Of course, that doesn't mean they can only be used in the context of the local church. But it does mean that one of the primary functions of our spiritual gifts is building up the church. If we actively remove our gifts from that context, then we're resisting the goals of the Spirit who gifted us. And if we actively remove ourselves from that context, then we won't benefit from the gifts the Spirit has given the rest of the church.

With regard to Reformed theology, I don't think it's prevalent cessationism is any reason to abandon its strengths. Study Bibles are useful for the teaching and insight they offer with regard to interpretation and application. In general, Reformed theology is going to give you the best interpretations, and often very good applications. I know several of the people that worked on the ESV Study Bible (I even referred one of them to the project when Justin Taylor called me for input). They're godly people. And they believe in God's power. You may even be aware that Wayne Grudem, the general editor in charge of the project, is himself a charismatic. And as I mentioned earlier, I think you may be selling Evangelical Reformed churches short when it comes to miracles. I've been working in full-time Reformed ministry for 20 years, and I know a great many Reformed pastors, churches, seminary professors, etc. I have never met a single Reformed Evangelical that had such a narrow view of miracles as you've described. They all affirm every miracle of Scripture, miraculous answers to prayer, and God's tendency to work miracles in our lives simply because it fits his purposes to do so - whether or not we ask for such miracles in prayer. What Reformed Evangelical cessationists deny is that God still grants the power of "miracles on demand," so to speak, that we see the apostle's performing in Scripture. By own view differs from theirs. But I think they're right about far more things than they're wrong about. Anyway, if you do drop the ESV Study Bible, I personally prefer the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible and the NLT Discover God Study Bible - check the editors/contributors lists in those to figure out why. ;-)

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Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.