"And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4: 29-31 KJV)
Is this prayer still appropriate today? Or, was it simply pertinent to the apostolic age? If it is still a prayer that ought to be prayed today, is Godanswering it? If yes, how and in what way? If not, why not?
There is little doubt among Christians about the facts of church history in this regard. Supernatural gifts ('charismata') of the Spirit did not long persist among the community of believers. Some historical records put their cessation in the first century, while others not till the third. Some Christians, among those who believe in an historical "cessation" of the "charismata," nevertheless believe that the supernatural gifts will be "restored" to the church in the latter days of the church age. Others, among the "cessationist" view, believe that they will not ever be "restored," believing that they served their purpose in the apostolic age and that there is no more reason for them.
It would be only the latter group who would oppose Christians praying the above prayer, believing such a prayer would be useless, and against the revealed will of God. These would notpray for "signs and wonders" to be "done by the name of thy holy child Jesus." Oh yes, they will pray for healings and for acts of divine power, but not in the same open manner as did the first Christians.
This belief that it isuseless to pray this prayer is kin to the belief that the "Lord's Prayer" is also not to be prayed by Christians today, for they say, "why pray for the kingdom to come when it is already here?"
"And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."(Judges 6:13)
Some believers in the days of Gideon were also curious about the "cessation" of the miraculous among them and the reasons for it. Surely many Christians today, and even more so in the coming days of"great tribulation," will be asking themselves these same questions."Where be all his miracles" that we read about in the early Christian church?
"Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."(I Cor. 14:1)
Again, we must ask ourselves as Christians in the 21st century, and nearer the coming of Christ than ever before, is this apostolic command still binding upon us? Or, is this command now obsolete as is (supposedly) the Lord's Prayer and the prayer of the apostles and early church as cited above? Or, is this commandyet binding upon Christians, as is theLord's Prayer and the above prayer of the apostolic church? Am I todesire, seek, and pray for spiritual and miraculous gifts? Am I to pray and believe God for "signs and wonders" to be done today?
Were the Christians of the first century alone commanded to desire the charismata? Is it sinful, wrong, or foolish for any Christian to do so today? What would be God's attitude towards such prayers offered to him today by genuine Christians?
Was Paul giving instructions about the charismata which would soon cease? Are those instructions irrelevant for Christians today? Even if they have "ceased," is the reason in God or in the church? Why does their historical cessation argue against the possibility of their restoration?
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."(I Corinthians 12: 1-12 KJV)
It seems that Paul believed that the various gifts were what was normally expected. Each member would have a gift, some supernatural. If this is normal, then not to have them would be an abnormality. It would be an "abnormality" for the early churchnot to have such gifts of supernatural power. Today however, it would be"abnormal" for a church to havesuch gifts. Ironic.
"Despise not prophesyings." (I Thessalonians 5: 20 KJV)
But, this is precisely what many do who advocate a "strict" cessation of the "charismata," whodisallow the possibility of their restoration. They have a negative attitude against all who seek, desire, or profess to have any of the gifts.
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." (Romans 12: 3-8 KJV)
Many of these "gifts" are allowed as still existing among Christians, while the "miraculous gifts" are no longer extant, nor possible of a restoration. Yet, the gift of "prophecy" is listed with the non miraculous gifts in the above citation. Notice that the "gifts" vary according to the sovereign choice of God, depending upon him giving to each member his own unique "measure" (quantity) of "faith" and"grace." Certainly those who "work miracles," as Stephen, and those who "heal,"as did many disciples in the early church, had a large "measure" of faith and grace! The question is, should we seek andpray for such quantities today?
"And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mark 11: 22-24KJV)
"And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matthew 17: 20 KJV)
Again, is this advice of Christ not applicable for Christians today? Is it like many say of the Lord's Prayer, of theprayer of the apostles and early church, of thecommand of Paul to desire the charismata, particularly the gift of prophecy, that it is all nowsupposedly obsolete, null and void?
"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5: 14-16KJV)
"Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?"(Galatians 3: 5NIV)
It seems to have been the "norm" for Christians to "work miracles" and to see "signs and wonders"performed among them by the Lord through his gifted andempowered servants.
"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." (I Corinthians 1: 4-7KJV)
It seems that it was a mark of a healthy church to be gifted with "spiritual gifts" or with the "charismata."Paul does not hint at any idea that the gifts would notexist, at least not till the coming of Christ.
"And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, anddo exploits. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days. Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries. And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed." (Daniel 11: 32-35KJV)
Many apply this to the time of the "great tribulation" as depicted in the Apocalypse and no doubt it includes that time period. In that time period the "two witnesses" certainly possess the supernatural gifts. Others too, like the 144,000 witnesses, also seem to be able to perform miracles. Are there any saints besides these who will not also do wonders?Daniel's prophecy seems to indicate it.
"He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and theLord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it." (Mark 16: 15-20NIV)
"This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2: 3, 4NIV)
The main purpose of the working of miracles and the "charismata" was to "confirm" the testimony of the Lord's specially sent "witnesses"of his resurrection. Thus, the main purpose has been served. Yet, it seems clear that times may yet call for them to be given by Lord God once again to his chosen servants.