It has been said that if we focus completely on Scripture to the exclusion of experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, we will be in danger of drying up spiritually. If on the other hand we run to the opposite extreme and seek to experience the Holy Spirit without regard to what the Scriptures teach, then we might “burn up.” There is truth to this saying.
Must we, however, choose between dry evangelicalism and wacky charismania? Is there not a happy and Scriptural medium where we can consistently witness the miraculous healing power of our Lord and yet remain faithful to a more “conservative” view of Scripture? We will address this question.
An evangelical cessationist leader—many of whom tend to deny the existence of the “sign-gifts” of the Holy Spirit today—once spoke on the danger of falling into “biblioatry” when we emphasis knowledge of Scripture over relationship with God. (See The Uneasy Conscience of a Non-Charismatic Evangelical.) At the same time, however, when we emphasize supernatural manifestations and “experience” with God over and beyond what Scripture teaches, we can fall into deception by the enemy. Satan can also perform miracles and appear as an angel of light. Therefore it is important to judge all supernatural manifestations from Scripture, and not based on our experience.
Is it possible to avoid the two opposing extremes? The answer is absolutely yes. The answer involves going back to the Scriptures where we can learn how we can personally and intimately know the God of the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit. The answer is going back to the Scriptures where we are taught how to minister in supernatural power for the sake of the gospel. The answer is found in Scripture alone. We find both knowing God and the miraculous taught in Scripture.
Miracles: discerning what is from God and what is not
Knowing that the enemy can also perform miraculous works, how can we discern which miracles are from God and which are not?
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Scripture records many miraculous works performed by Jesus. Most of them were healing the sick and casting out demons. In the Scripture above Jesus clearly promised that we believers would also heal the sick and cast out demons as He did. What is not so clear are the “greater things.” Exactly what did Jesus mean? Whatever He may have actually meant, some have taken it to mean essentially any type of miraculous manifestation not recorded in Scripture occurring in the ministry of those who come in His name. This can include “holy laughter”, crawling on the floor, roaring, shaking, vigorous bodily jerking, screaming, uncontrolled running, as well as gold dust and gemstones appearing in their meetings. There are certainly other supernatural manifestations not listed here occurring in such meetings as well. It is claimed that these could be the “greater things” or “greater works” which Jesus said that believers would do.
There is a second Scripture which is used to justify such manifestations.
John 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
In other words, Jesus performed many miracles not recorded in Scripture. Who is to say that holy laughter, shaking, vigorous jerking motions, crawling, roaring, screaming, uncontrolled running, as well as gold dust and gemstones were not manifest in his ministry?
Based on these considerations it is argued that such extrabiblical manifestations taking place today in the ministry of those who come in the name of Jesus are of God. Essentially, whatever supernatural manifestations witnessed in the ministry of someone who comes in His name must be of divine origin.
Let us examine this conclusion by posing some questions.
Are these miracles from God?
If someone comes in the name of Jesus, and in his (or her) meetings he walks on hot coals barefoot without feeling pain, would we accept that miraculous manifestation as from God?
If someone comes in the name of Jesus and in his meetings often walks on a bed of sharp nails without feeling pain, would we accept the miracles as from God?
If someone comes in the name of Jesus and in his meetings consistently levitates in the air, would we accept the manifestation as from God?
I think that many of not most believers today would answer each of the three questions in the negative. Why? It’s because it is commonly known that devotees of Hinduism are able to perform such feats by the power of their Hindu demons. Moreover, as recorded in Scripture Jesus and His disciples did not practice such things.
Interestingly, however, some of the unscriptural manifestations listed above which some say are from God (holy laughter, jerking, etc.) are also found in the New Age and in pagan religions.
What then should we conclude about such manifestations if we are to remain consistent with regard to our evaluation of walking on burning coals, on sharp nails, and on floating in the air? The answer should be obvious.
Let us be safe and judge manifestations by the authoritative and inerrant Scriptures
Our position is that it is important to judge supernatural manifestations by the Scriptures. We do not want to take the risk of ministering and performing miracles in Jesus’ name here on earth, and then later at Christ’s Judgment Seat we hear the words, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In light of this very stern and sobering warning from Jesus, let us take great care to remain faithful to Holy Scripture with regard to the miraculous. As much as possible let us do only what is recorded in Scripture. We personally would even take this one step further by limiting what we do and teach only to 1) those miracles which disciples are commanded to perform in New Testament Scripture, 2) those miracles which were actually performed by Jesus or a disciple as recorded in Scripture, and 3) those miracles which are strongly supported (frequently mentioned) in New Testament Scripture and not simply a one-time occurrence. We choose not to “major in minors.”
It is possible to experience the supernatural while staying close to Scripture
It is indeed possible to experience a very personal, satisfying relationship with the Lord while at the same time experiencing miraculous manifestations which are strongly based on the written Scriptures.
For this it is important to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised in John 7:38-39:
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
This is not simply a dry theological statement. Rather, “rivers of living water flowing from within us” are to be experienced by us who believe in Jesus Christ. The disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost experienced it. At that very moment there was a sudden change in their behavior. Prior to that moment they were huddled in the Upper Room. But after the Holy Spirit came upon them they began to declare the wonders of God and attracted a crowd of people. Peter—the same Peter who had cowardly denied the Lord three times several days earlier—stood up and boldly proclaimed the gospel to the crowd. Three thousand men accepted his message and were baptized. Clearly the fearful disciples had personally experienced something very powerful and supernatural from the Holy Spirit. The fear had disappeared and they become extremely bold, bearing much fruit for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Scripture commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). It is most certainly possible to experience what the early disciples experienced when they were filled with the Holy Spirit—especially boldness and fruitfulness for the gospel.
Miraculous signs as confirmation of the gospel
The New Testament, especially the gospels and Acts, contain frequent accounts of Jesus and His disciples miraculously healing the sick and casting out demons. If we study these accounts closely, we will arrive at some basic principles by which they performed these miracles. In accordance with John 14:12, by applying these principles we also should be able to heal the sick and cast out demons as Jesus did. (This teaching is, of course, for those who do not subscribe to cessationism.) When these principles are taught to “ordinary” disciples, they also can heal the sick and cast out demons effectively. This should not be surprising in light of Jesus’ promise in John 14:12.
This is what we have been doing in many countries around the world beginning in the year 2000. Tens of thousands of disciples have been trained to do the works that Jesus did. Quite a few have launched out with powerful and fruitful ministries where the sick are healed and the gospel is preached leading to the lost repenting and accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
Therefore knowing the Lord intimately through the Holy Spirit while ministering fruitfully in the power of His Spirit on the one hand are not mutually exclusive with following Scripture closely on the other. It is not that we either dry up or we burn up. It is possible to have a rich personal relationship with the Lord which produces fruit often accompanied by supernatural manifestations while submitting to the authority of Scripture from a non-cessationist conservative perspective.
By grace we are enabled both to abound in the fruit of the Holy Spirit—which speaks of holiness and the character of Jesus Christ—as well as to minister fruitfully in the power of the Holy Spirit—which speaks of the miracles in His ministry.
Our personal testimony
God’s presence in our lives was so powerful and intimate that in 1978 we gave up everything—including our advanced university degrees in secular fields and “the American Dream”—to leave America completely by faith to preach the gospel and make disciples in unreached areas of primitive Indonesian Borneo. At that time I had known the Lord for only two years, and had not quite yet finished reading the Bible. We had no financial support from any churches, nor any help from a mission agency. But we came to know the Lord in an intimate way that enabled us to trust Him to open the way for us. And He did so in a most miraculous fashion. We stayed in Indonesia for nearly nine years at that time, planting churches and making disciples who are serving the Lord fruitfully today. (Download our testimony: Dancing on the Edge of the Earth.)
By God’s wonderful grace the two of us have been happily married for nearly forty years as of 2013. By God’s grace we are able to walk in holiness and obedience to the Lord’s holy commands as found in Scripture.
Therefore we can personally attest that it is possible to walk with the Lord in a very intimate way, witnessing the miraculous in ministry while remaining faithful to a more conservative view of Scripture. We are more than content in doing what the Lord has entrusted to us, teaching His disciples to obey everything He has commanded us in accordance with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20). And what did Jesus command His disciples? Among other things, “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near you'” (Luke 10:9).
The Lord has graciously made us very fruitful teaching His disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost. We have already seen very many infirm people healed and give public testimony—thus drawing the lost to Jesus Christ. Those whom we train do the same. And so we are very content and thankful to the Lord; we have no desire at all for the strange supernatural manifestations seen and taught in some circles of the Church.
In our view it is not at all worth risking the possibility of someday hearing from our Judge and Lord the words: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer!” There will be no more forgiveness available at that time. Fos us that is more chilling than anything else imaginable in this life.