Is God still in the miracle business? There is an entire swath of professing Christianity that would answer that question with a resounding and enthusiastic, “Yes.” The Word-Faith and New Apostolic Reformation movements (WF/NAR) are twin movements that, though there be a bit of distinction between them, have far more in common with one another and, in fact, they are today essentially melding into one. They both teach that there are modern day Apostles, that Christians are entitled to guaranteed physical healing and financial prosperity, and that signs and wonders are to be a normative part of the believer’s life.
Although this author holds that these movements are doctrinally heretical and teach a different gospel,1 such serious concerns are beyond the scope of this article. We will focus here specifically on whether or not their claims of the continuance of modern day signs and wonders are valid.
What is a Miracle?
We should begin by defining exactly what a miracle is because this is a term that is often misunderstood and misused even by theologically conservative believers with a high view of Scripture. A miracle is “an observable phenomenon effected by the direct operation of God’s power, an arresting deviation from the ordinary sequence of nature, a deviation calculated to beget faith-begetting awe, a divine in-breaking which authenticates a revelational agent.”2 In other words, a miracle is an act performed by God that is an indisputable change in natural law that validates one of His revelatory messengers.
There is an important distinction we must make between a miracle and God’s providence. Floating ax heads, parting seas, talking donkeys, fire from Heaven, and resurrections from the dead3 are miracles. The Lord snatching Philip away (Acts 8: 39) is a miracle whereas fortuitously running into someone who lends us aid is not. A man lame for 38 years suddenly walking is a miracle (John 5:1-9), but slowly recovering from cancer is not. We should give thanks to God for sending us people to lend aid and we should give thanks when one recovers from a disease (even when one does not recover from a disease!), but such things are not to be called miracles. Rather, they are acts of God’s good Providence.
Were Miracles Common?
Many have this idea that God was performing miracles all the time throughout the Bible. We think that had we been living in biblical times we would be seeing God perform one miracle after another. Such is not the case, though. For one, if miracles were commonplace then they would cease to be, well, miraculous. More definitively, though, is that even in biblical days miracles were quite rare events.
Consider this: Between Adam and Moses, about 2500 years passed with precisely zero miracles. Then Moses and Joshua arrived and performed a dozen or so miracles. After they passed from the scene another 500 years passed with no miracles until the arrival of Elijah and Elisha who performed another handful of miracles. There then commenced another multi-century long drought of the miraculous (and of God even speaking) until the ministries of Jesus and His disciples4 who between them, for a few decades, performed many miracles. With the closing of the Apostolic age until now there has been no one who can credibly claim to perform miracles. So, for the 6000 year or so history of mankind less than 200 of those years saw any miracles performed and only by 100 or fewer individuals. Surprised?
The Purpose of Miracles
Many professing Christians today believe that God performs miracles today for our own benefit. If someone is sick, God desires to heal that person and would gladly do so if that person only has enough faith. The clear teaching from Scripture, however, is that God does not primarily perform miracles for the benefit of a particular individual. Rather, when God performed miracles He did so with the primary purpose of authenticating one of His messengers. The miracles of the Old Testament authenticated Moses and the prophets as coming from Yahweh and also showed Him as the one true God over pagan deities. The miracles of the New Testament authenticated Jesus as the Messiah and the Apostles as His spokesmen.
Individuals certainly benefited from the healing miracles of Jesus, but these acts were always done to authenticate Who He was and to affirm His divine mission to atone for sins. Jesus certainly had compassion on the sick, but their physical comfort took a distant back seat to his concern for their spiritual well-being. He knew their greatest need was not healing from sickness and disease but from sin.5
Are there Apostles Today?
Given that after Jesus was resurrected and ascended into Heaven it was only His Apostles who performed signs and wonders,6 a crucial question to ask regarding the continuance of the Apostolic gifts is, “Are there modern day Apostles?”
In order to be an Apostle a man had to meet three requirements:
1) He had to be an eye witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ7
2) He had to be directly appointed by Christ to be an Apostle8 and
3) He had to be able to perform the signs and wonders of an Apostle.9
None of the men who saw Jesus raised from the dead are around anymore. They have all been in Heaven now for almost 2000 years. This takes care of the first two requirements. As for the third, no one can do what the Apostles did. No one. No one today can heal the sick and raise the dead as did the Apostles. A careful reading of Scripture shows that the ability to perform signs and wonders were unique to the Apostles even in the days of Acts.
Consider Acts 2:43, “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place among the Apostles.” Notice that the signs and wonders were being done by the Apostles. Acts 5:12 is even more clear, “At the hands of the Apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.” Notice the specificity and clarity of the Holy Spirit as He inspires God’s Word. The signs and wonders were being performed “at the hands of the Apostles” who were “among the people.” Signs and wonders were simply not being performed by Christians at large, but by the Apostles and there are no more Apostles today. Period.
Has God Changed?
One of the primary arguments that believers can perform signs and wonders today is the biblical truth that God does not change.10 The reasoning is that if God did miracles in the past (which He did) and God does not change (which He doesn’t) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (which Hebrews 13:8 states) then He should be performing miracles today with the same frequency as He did back then.
But this is to fall into a logical fallacy. Using this logic then one would be compelled to say that we should still be sacrificing animals today. He required it in the Old Testament, and God does not change, so we should be doing it today. But no believer today is sacrificing animals. Why not? Did god change? No, but His revelation of Himself has progressed through the ages culminating in the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:2-3). Jesus’ single sacrifice on the cross put an end to the need for animal sacrifices.11
One of the interpretive errors made by adherents of this movement is to assume that everything that occurred in the book of Acts should be occurring for believers and the church today. If it happened in the Bible, it should happen today they reason. However, this is to confuse the descriptive with the prescriptive. In other words, even though every event recorded in the Bible happened, not everything recorded in the Bible is to be considered normative. Not everything that the Bible described is prescribed. As we’ve already mentioned, God made a donkey talk but I sincerely hope you haven’t been seeing any talking donkeys lately. If you have then I would recommend Ephesians 5:18 as your next memory verse!
Are Their Claims True?
There is certainly no shortage of miraculous claims today. One would be hard pressed to watch “Christian” television networks such as TBN, Daystar, INSP, etc. for more than about ten minutes without hearing a televangelist make claims of regularly operating in signs and wonders. Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California claims that gold dust and angel feathers fall from the sky in his services. Todd White, head of a ministry called “Lifestyle Christianity” can be seen on YouTube going up to people at random on the streets and commanding them to be healed. One of his more well-known tricks is to command a person’s leg to grow about half an inch.
All of these things, though, are just that—tricks. I have researched and studied this movement and its claims for over 20 years now and can tell you that there is not a single verifiable case of anyone performing a genuine physical healing— much less a resurrection—as did the Apostles. No one. God is not dispensing gold dust and angels are not dropping their feathers. And if Todd White can heal people randomly on the streets then the first place he should be going is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and heal those sick and dying children of cancer. If he can command a leg to grow then surely he can command cancer cells to die.
But you won’t catch Todd White or Benny Hinn or any of the other panoply of fake miracle workers anywhere near a hospital. They can’t do what they claim they can do. They are charlatans who prey upon the poor, the sick, the desperate, the widows, and the gullible for personal financial gain.
Many in this movement accuse someone like me of not believing in the Holy Spirit, not believing in the spiritual gifts, and not believing in the power of God. Nothing could be further from the truth. I fully affirm in both the Person and regenerating, indwelling work of the Holy Spirit of God. I fully affirm that genuine believers are given the spiritual gifts of teaching, mercy, administration, exhortation, etc. (I only assert that the Apostolic gifts12 have ceased). I also fully affirm that God not only can but does physically heal people today when it is His sovereign will to do so. I reject, though, that anyone possesses the gift of healing as did the Apostles.
This is not a question of God not being able to heal people or perform miracles. Of course He can. God can do whatever He wants to do (Ps 135:6). The greatest miracle, though, is not when the blind see or the lame walk. The greatest miracle is when the dead are raised, not physically, but spiritually. The greatest miracle is when God takes those who are spiritually dead in sins and makes them alive in Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul states, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom 1:16).” Want to see the real power of God unleashed? Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
1For more information on the cultic origins of these movements and documentation on their doctrinal heresies, see my DVD entitled Clouds Without Water available at www.justinpeters.org
2Baker’s Dictionary of Theology
3Floating ax head (2 Kings 6); Red Sea parting (Exodus 14); Talking donkey (Genesis 22); Fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18; 2 Kings 1); Resurrections from the dead (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4; Luke 7; John 11; Acts 20; Jesus’ resurrection recorded in all 4 gospels and referenced many times throughout the New Testament).
4This would include the 72 disciples commissioned by Jesus as recorded in Luke 10.
5See for example Matthew 9:1-8.
6The only two exceptions would be Steven (Acts 6) and Philip (Acts 8) who were close associates with the Apostles.
7Acts 1:22, 10:38-41; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:7-9.
8Matthew 10:1-7, Acts 1:24-26, Galatians 1:1.
92 Corinthians 12:12.
10This biblical truth is referred to as the “immutablity” of God.
11See Hebrews 7:27, 10:1-18; 1 Peter 3:18.
12The Apostolic gifts, or, “sign gifts,” to which they are also referred, include the gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, miracles, and physical healing.