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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

"If it's in the book of Acts it should happen today?"

A good start
A Christan who makes the Scriptures his or her guide in all things, ought to say, especially of the New Testament, "if it happened here, surely it ought to happen in today's church" for we like those first believers, belong to the Gospel age of the New Covenant, the age in which the Spirit of God has been poured out upon his people.

So as a first take and as an instinctive response to New Testament Scripture, this approach is to be applauded.

Second thoughts
But as we begin to read through Acts - and the letters of that apostolic age, the New Testament - we begin to sense that there might be something unique about the age of the first Apostles, and hence about the period of time recorded in the book of Acts. 

For one thing, this age was foundational. Jesus founded no church directly, but left his Apostles to undertake the work of writing the founding documents of the church, inspired by the Spirit and preserved in the New Testament. An age that is foundational, might be slightly different from the house built upon it.

If we were to ask what made the first decades of the Christian church foundational, it was the existence of the Apostles, capital "A". These men were responsible for the writings of the New Testament - every one of the 27 books of the NT were written either by an Apostle (roughly the Twelve plus Paul) or by someone very close to an Apostle: that was one of the 'criteria of inclusion'.

So the Apostolic Age was unique because the Apostles were alive, the Apostles who wrote the New Testament Scriptures. 

How did an "apostle" demonstrate that he was an Apostle, capital "A", with divine authority to write or oversee a letter or book of the New Testament? He performed unique miracles, says Paul:

"The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance." (2 Corinthians 12:12)

What kinds of unique miracles?

"....people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on them as he passed by..... all of them were healed." (Acts 5:12-16)

"God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs that had touched him were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." (Acts 19:11-12)

So some of the miracles we find in the book of Acts, are "extraordinary" miracles which marked out the Apostle performing them as a Spirit-inspired man with the divine authority to write Scripture. A shadow or hankerchief could heal, for example.

I have been a "student of miracles" for many years, earnestly desiring to find true and real examples of present day healings (and there are some wonderful true examples), but I have yet to come across any miracle worker today or in post-apostolic history who performed anything remotely like the miracles of the Apostles.

Let's be realistic: if such a person truly existed today, the world would be flocking to them, and there would be extensive documentation of their miracles. If any miracle worker today had 1000 bonafide miracles to their name (I know it would be to the name of Jesus, not their name) they would be more famous than David Beckham, and they would be in demand across the globe. Such miracle workers simply do not exist: that is a humble challenge as well as a honest assessment. 

The character of the Apostolic miracles was radical: we're not talking about backaches going away and the like, we're talking about verifiable big miracles including raising the dead to life. And those miracles were performed to authenticate the Apostle.

Time for a second look
So now we go back the the book of Acts and we ask, with new eyes, enlightened by the Spirit of God, what  is unique and what is repeatable? We do not expect to see everything we read repeated in the church today, because that age was foundational.

Two extremes
Perhaps the greatest tragedy that can befall us is to find ourselves at either end of a spectrum. There are some Christians who truly "throw out the baby with the bath water." They believe that virtually nothing supernatural in Acts happens today.  They want nothing to do with the supernatural: indeed they are suspicious - and even frightened - of all miracles, all prophecies, and any event that cannot be rationalised away.

At the other end of the spectrum are believers who believe that absolutely everything recorded in Acts can happen today. Since it actually doesn't happen in real life they often live in a land of fantasy and delusion, reading into every apparently minor supernatural event or word something of immense supernatural  significance.

No-one gets this balance right, but that is no reason not to labour at balance. We live in the age of the Gospel and the Spirit, but we don't live in the age of the Apostles. We need wisdom from God to work this  out from Scripture in our lives and in our churches.

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