I am often asked about the many “strange” signs and wonders that happen in some Charismatic church gatherings–things like feathers and gemstones falling out of the air, the appearance of what seems to be “manna” (the bread the Israelites ate in the desert), people receiving gold teeth, and people being spontaneously covered in gold dust or oil. For the most part, I have stayed away from these topics on this site because I find them to be divisive; but I have an angle of the conversation that I believe needs to be addressed so that we can move on to maturity.
This debate seems to have two sharply contrasting views. People either wholeheartedly support these little miracles as signs from God or they outright reject them as tricks of the devil (or somehow faked by humans). Few, it seems, are those with the discernment (or maybe the patience) to wade through the muddy waters and distinguish what is actually happening.
Let me start by pointing out the negative side of the debate. There are many well-meaning Christians who will say, “Where is that in the Bible? I’ve never heard of anyone receiving a gold tooth in the Word of God. Peter and Paul didn’t have gemstones mysteriously appear in their meeting. Jesus didn’t have feathers raining from heaven during the Sermon on the Mount. If there’s no biblical precedent, then it’s not from God.”
I’ve never really been able to buy into this argument. Imagine the disciples on the Day of Pentecost saying, “I never read anything about tongues of fire in the Torah–this is obviously not from God!” Or how about the Old Testament people who didn’t even have a written book to consult? How would you have responded when Aaron’s staff budded and blossomed without any written precedent?
All throughout the Bible, God has worked diverse miracles for one generation that aren’t seen in the next generation. For example, God parted the water for the Israelites, but not for Jesus–instead, He walked on top of it!
Doesn’t it make more sense to believe that our God is still sovereign and that He is still creative? Shouldn’t we expect Him to still work miracles that no one has ever witnessed before?
But don’t take all this as though I’m endorsing all these strange signs and wonders without reservation. To do so would be to ignore the warnings of Christ to keep watch:
Matthew 24:24–For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. (NIV)
Just because signs and wonders are happening doesn’t automatically mean that God is at work. In fact, since Jesus promised that these signs would be performed in such a way as to deceive “the elect,” it stands to reason that they may even be done in Jesus’ name. Just because the name of Jesus is attached to a sign doesn’t mean He is actually in it.
Matthew 7:22-23–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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (NIV)
I have noticed that many Charismatics (at least in America) carry a stronghold of gullibility rooted in the wounds of their past.
Many people who believe what we believe do so because they are convinced that our God is supernatural and still works today through His Holy Spirit (a good belief to have, by the way). As a result, many of us have had spiritual experiences that others have questioned. Many of us have beliefs that make others upset. And in response to this “persecution,” many of us have determined in our hearts never to wound anyone else by rejecting them the way we have been rejected.
The result: we buy into everything. If Jesus gets an honorable mention, or if it happens in a church meeting, then it must be from God. To question it would be to reject others just as we have been rejected for what we know to be true. We think we’re being loving; but in reality, we’re just “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
Not every miracle is from God. Not every miracle worked in Jesus’ name is from God. Not every miracle worked by a Christian is from God.
What if Jesus–while He was fasting in the wilderness–had given into the temptation of Satan and commanded a stone to become bread? Even though Jesus worked the miracle, it would have been a work of the enemy. I am convinced that Satan is still tempting believers to turn stones into bread, so-to-speak. He is tempting many–even Christians–to perform works that God has not authorized. And since we Charismatics are so hungry for miracles, signs, and wonders, we joyfully jump into shark-infested kiddie-pools with both feet.
Does that mean all miraculous signs are bad? Of course not. The reason criminals make counterfeit twenty-dollar bills is because there are real twenty-dollar bills. What use would there be in making a thirty-dollar bill? No one would be deceived by it! In the same way, Satan only counterfeits and perverts that which is real, in an effort “to deceive even the elect…” Don’t let the presence of the false scare you away from searching for the true.
What matters is that we keep our focus on Christ and seek the Holy Spirit for discernment.
Now, let me bring another concept into the mix: 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love “always trusts.” And since we are commanded to love even our enemies, then shouldn’t we trust everyone who performs a miracle?
There is a difference between trust and gullibility; and there is a difference between discernment and skepticism. The people on opposing sides of the “signs and wonders” debate tend to battle in the realms of gullibility or skepticism, which are sharply at odds. God’s intention is that we function in trust and discernment, which go hand-in-hand.
Gullibility says that everything is true until proven false. Skepticism says that everything is false until proven true. The two mindsets will never agree in spiritual matters without a person changing uniforms and fighting for the other side.
On the other hand, consider trust and discernment. Those who follow these virtues say, “I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and search the Scriptures to prove you true (like the “noble” Bereans in Acts 17:11). But if what you say doesn’t sit right in my spirit, and I can’t find any biblical reason to believe you, then I’m not going to embrace for myself what you have to say. I won’t outright reject you, but I will be cautious in this one area until God shows me otherwise.”
Do you see the difference? Gullibility and skepticism divide the church, whereas trust and discernment unite us. The first two deal in the realm of fear and knee-jerk reactions to the experiences of our past. The second two require death to self and unity with Christ in His patience, love, and passion for unity.
I have personally experienced many strange signs and wonders–unexplainable wind while indoors, angelic appearances, a word from God written in the sky, and more–but I don’t usually share these things. It’s not because I am afraid of rejection, but rather because I don’t want to force those who are ruled by skepticism or gullability to fall into sin.
And when people share their stories of miraculous experiences with me, I give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that it’s true. Love always trusts. Nevertheless, I won’t be swayed into thinking more highly of that person than I ought to, and I won’t be deceived into searching for another sign rather than simply drawing near to God. As Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!” (Matthew 12:39). I trust and I discern; but I don’t reject people, and I also don’t buy into them hook, line, and sinker.
Miracles, signs, and wonders happen. Some are from God, some are from the enemy, some are faked, and some actually are coincidence. That’s just a fact we’ll have to deal with. The question is how we will respond to the people who witness or perform these signs. Will we be skeptical? Will we be gullible? Or will we seek the Lord for discernment and determine in our hearts to trust one another with the love of Christ?