Where are the miraculous gifts? If all the passages you’re mentioning are meant to include us–21st century disciples–where are the miraculous manifestations? Where are the tongues, the healings, the interpretations, the prophecies, the visible floating fires, etc.?
If the Spirit-relevant bits of the passages you’re dealing with truly are meant to include us, I can’t think of any good reason why our experience of the Spirit would be any different than theirs.
A few thoughts —
1. The New Testament doesn’t draw a bright-line distinction between the spectacular and more mundane gifts of the Spirit. Prophecy is mentioned in the same breath with such gifts as liberality and encouragement. It’s all the Spirit. It all violates natural law. It’s all miraculous.
(Rom 12:1 ESV) 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Therefore, I reject any theory that insists treating some gifts of the Spirit differently from others without scriptural justification. We can’t read our Western, naturalistic preconceptions into the scriptures. If the Spirit can’t give the gift of healing today, why could the Spirit still give joy or the gift of leadership?
2. And yet I don’t see the more spectacular gifts manifested in my congregation — healing, tongues, that sort of thing. But does that mean they are no longer given ever? anywhere? No, absence of proof isn’t proof of absence. Besides, I know people who’ve seen and experienced things that sure seem miraculous. Just because I haven’t personally experienced these things hardly means it hasn’t happened.
3. We are told to test the spirits — but that hardly means that we should deny that there are spirits.
(1Jo 4:1 ESV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
4. The New Testament witness suggests that the most spectacular gifts are found among the most immature in the faith. And today, some of the most convicting accounts of miraculous works of the Spirit are found in mission points — and that actually makes sense.
I’m not sure God wastes his miraculous efforts on people unwilling to see. Around here, if someone did a healing, even if it was videotaped and there were 20 medical doctors who’d certify that a miracle had happened, few would believe it. We are so imbued with the scientific, naturalistic worldview that we can’t see miracles that happen before our very eyes. Faith in these parts has to come by other means.
Anyway, God acts the way he wants to, and he’s not bound by rules — other than the fact that he’ll keep his promises and tell the truth.
Even while Jesus was in Galilee, people died without being raised and not all diseases were healed. There were surely weddings that ran out of wine too soon. Miracles aren’t given to end all the sufferings of this life. They are given to help create faith. And God decides when to act and when not to. Even Paul wasn’t healed of his thorn in the flesh. That doesn’t mean no healings occurred!
God does miracles when it suits his purposes, and that means that sometimes miracles don’t happen even when earnestly prayed for. And it may well be that it doesn’t suit God’s purposes to heal and give tongues as readily as he once did — right here, right now. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t active in that way in other places that are more receptive or that have a greater need. That’s his to decide.
By the way, miracles do happen even here in West Alabama. Some are quite spectacular. It’s just that the American Protestant church culture makes it hard for us to share these experiences. Grab 30 members of your church and create a safe, trusting environment. Ask if anyone in the group has ever experienced a miracle. I guarantee that you’ll hear some stories that will amaze you!
More importantly, who am I to decide what kind of miracles God must do? My own church has a member who a year ago was eating out of dumpsters and who has now defeated addiction and has a job. Why isn’t that a miracle? In today’s worlds, that’s harder to accomplish than defeating most physical diseases.
We have a couple who, at great cost, are working to adopt a Down’s syndrome baby from Russia. It would take a miracle to get me to do that! Why would I suppose that their decision didn’t also require a miracle?
We have couples with young children who are buying houses in the housing projects to work with the people there. Again — it would take a miracle to get me to do that. I’m sure it took a miracle for them to make that decision.
Miracles are all around us. We just need to learn to see them.