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Few Thoughts on Signs & Wonders Today


MizoramCorporateFasting

Picture: Fasting & Prayer Gathering 5 minutes from our house in, Aizawl, India.

Here is my two cents worth, in no particular order.  In my zeal for the centrality of the Word, I concluded in an an earlier post in 2011 that:

“Signs & wonders could not convert the religious leaders during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  In fact it failed to lead them to repentance, hence Jesus pronounced: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes” (Luke 10: 13).  Signs & wonders are not the ultimate eye openers necessarily.  It cannot replace the powerful preaching of the Gospel (although signs & wonders may accompany preaching –as the Spirit wills).  But here the Gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone” became a reality even among the Jewish priests!  The Gospel is the “power of God” (Romans 1: 16).  It says: “A great many of the priests became obedient to the faith”……..God’s Word can break hearts of stone!  “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23: 29).  Don’t under-estimate God’s Word.  It’s sharper than the surgeon’s scalpel.  “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)”  (full here).

I have not moved away from this conviction, though I realize that this came as a result of my own reaction to some of the abuses and counterfeits in the charismatic movement that I once was a part of in India.  Surely, the central message of the Gospel has been blurred, muddied and distorted by emphasizing too much on signs and wonders among many.  But our own society (the Mizo people), as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, were converted to Christ through consecutive God-centered revival and awakenings.  In these times of revival, signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of God’s word with self-authenticating power.  I remember very clearly of a revival that took place in 2001, which God used to spur me on toward cross-cultural missions in Japan.  That season, the emergency clinic at the civil hospital in my hometown had lesser patients because many went to the revival meetings to get healed of their infirmities.  Some church historians have noted that the Presbyterian Church of India is the only Calvinistic church that was born out of true revival.

Again, in an article dated 2010, one medical mission group who came to serve in a rural area in our home-state wrote: “We..celebrate the fact that not only were a total of 7,055 Mizos seen in our two medical clinics, but that more than 498 of them were miraculously healed by the Great Physician.”  Cheryl Schang, their Vice President (for Global Outreach), notes:  “People who were carried in walked out. People who were blind or nearly blind walked out seeing. People who were deaf in one ear got their hearing back…….God just showed up and showed off!”  And lest one is tempted to conclude that the Mizos are uneducated and are therefore vulnerable to spiritual gullibility, one must also take into consideration that Mizoram state has the second highest literacy rate in India where only a few selected Seminary graduates get to be ordained into the pastorate in the Presbyterian church (all these owing to the Gospel).  We must be careful not to put God in our theological prison.

Also, I wanted to highlight briefly that true revival will always face some form of persecution as it was in the early church.  Often times, Satan himself is the source of confusion in the revived church.  My people group (the Mizos) too suffered persecutions during the revivals, both from within and without, as Robert H. Lescelius noted:

“Revival was rekindled in 1913, breaking out with great power at presbytery meeting in 1913, when the first Mizo was ordained to the pastorate.  In 1919, even greater revival broke out simultaneously in three separate places, spreading with speed even to Tripura and Manipur States. Four thousand were converted, more than the total number of current communicants. Hymn-singing accompanied by the drum swept the land in a wave of rejoicing.  One effect of these revivals, within a generation, was to make head-hunters into a predominantly Christian people, inhabiting India’s most Christian and most evangelized area, in zeal far surpassing the early evangelized fields as well as the places which claimed a thousand years or more of a traditional Christianity. [2]

The satanic source behind the persecution of the revived church is a fact to be recognized. Yet, we must also realize that in spiritual warfare “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God is always in sovereign control, and, no matter how powerful the Devil is, he cannot overcome the purpose of redemption. Satan always turns out to be the loser in persecuting the church.  His attacks are not always outward.  Sometimes his onslaughts are inward.” 

He says Satan’s attacks are not always outward, but also inward.  Surely a genuine revival will always be mocked, as they did in the early church.  But, we respond with Peter who said: “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” (Acts 2: 15).

In light of the current Strange Fire Conference, I was encouraged to find that Piper had dealt with this issue in the 90s in a very compelling and helpful way.  He wrote:

“Signs and wonders are not the saving word of grace; they are God’s secondary testimony to the word of his grace. Signs and wonders do not save. They are not the power of God unto salvation. They do not transform the heart–any more than music or art or drama which accompany the gospel. Signs and wonders can be imitated by Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Matthew 24:24), but the gospel is utterly contrary to his nature. What changes the heart and saves the soul is the self-authenticating glory of Christ seen in the message of the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6).

Note the next few paragraphs.  He goes on to say:

“But even if signs and wonders can’t save the soul, they can, if God pleases, shatter the shell of disinterest; they can shatter the shell of cynicism; they can shatter the shell of false religion. Like every other good witness to the word of grace, they can help the fallen heart to fix its gaze on the gospel where the soul-saving, self-authenticating glory of the Lord shines. Therefore the early church longed for God to stretch forth his hand to heal, and that signs and wonders be done in the name of Jesus.

The fact that the early Christians prayed so earnestly for signs and wonders (Acts 4:29-30) is all the more striking when you realize that they, of all generations were in least need of supernatural authentication. This was the generation whose preaching (of Peter and Stephen and Philip and Paul) was more anointed than the preaching of any generation following.  If any preaching was the power of God unto salvation and did not need accompanying signs and wonders, it was this preaching. (read the whole thing HERE).

In conclusion, I want to pose a simple challenge as humbly as I can.  Though I believe that experience is not the ultimate test of truth, and though truth is truth at all times in all places, those who hold to Cessationism need to humble themselves, leave everything behind, and come to preach the Gospel in my country among the unreached and least evangelized.  Then we shall see if cessationism has power to heal people who have no access to proper medical care, transform communities in the face of persecution, and leave behind a legacy that spans over 100 years of Christianity among the unreached.  I personally know of no other community in India that comes to Christ without the self-authenticating power of the Gospel- with signs and wonders accompanying.

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