Thursday, April 25, 2013

Should Americans Seek Signs and Wonders?

NOTE: This is an article I wrote and presented in 1996. It appears to be still relevant in 2013 as it was then. Add "gold dust" to the signs people are seeking.

        Vineyard Fellowship and the Toronto Blessing.

        Rodney Howard-Browne and "Holy Laughing."
        A Southern Baptist missionary is pulled from his denomination's service because of his acceptance of "being slain in the Spirit."

        Annually, major evangelistic organizations promote "Signs and Wonders" conferences.

Across America, people are encouraged to seek out their gifts, and to attend meetings where signs and wonders are present.

Signs and wonders.  This issue has divided many in the Protestant arena.  Charismatic adherents claim that this is a genuine move of God, while more conservative opinions range from "don't know" to "its of the devil."

It is important to be discerning concerning any alleged movement from God.  However, the more puzzling question in my mind is not whether or not the move is of God.  The issue to me is this: should we in America have the right to actively seek for signs and wonders?

Signs and wonders are used throughout the Scriptures showing the awesome power of the living God to people who either do not serve  Him, or claim to serve Him but have abandoned their faith.  In the Old Testament, the signs were used as a testimony to the pagan population, and as a witness and warning to the Israelites to stay true to their God.  In the New Testament, this pattern is repeated. Signs and wonders were used by Jesus as a witness to His testimony that He was indeed the promised Messiah.  The Apostles used signs and  wonders as proof of their testimony of Jesus as the Son of God, and that what they were preaching was indeed the message of the living God.

Signs and wonders are legitimate tools used by God to show testimony of Himself.  But the question still remains:  should we seek after signs and wonders?

It is important to note the circumstances which surround the use of signs and wonders in Scripture:

      a.  The sign was almost always initiated by God for a specific purpose. 

      b.  The sign or wonder was rarely initiated by human request.  The only immediate exception to this rule which comes to mind is Matthew 15:21-28.  While it is an exception to this rule, the  circumstances do not violate the first rule. Jesus chose to initiate the miracle. 

      c.  The purpose for the sign or wonder was not selfish. Never was the sign or wonder initiated for the entertainment of the faithful.  One of my biggest concerns for the signs and wonders movement is that it degenerates into religious entertainment for many in the audience.  I do not believe God is here to entertain us.     Rather, we are here to serve Him. 

      d.  The sign or wonder was initiated spontaneously, without fanfare.  I think this point goes hand in hand with the one above.  No posters were printed saying, "All Jews!  Meet at the Red Sea and watch Moses part the waters!"  Instead, circumstances were such  that God chose to supernaturally intervene for His own purpose, which in this case was the saving of His chosen people.

Nowhere in Scripture can I find an injunction to seek signs and wonders.  On the contrary, I have found evidence that says we should not:  "A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign" (Matthew 16:4, NIV).

In this familiar passage, the Pharisees and Sadducees demanded from Jesus a sign in order to test His claim as Messiah.  Jesus of course refused. They did not ask for a sign so they could believe His claims.  They had their minds already made up.  If they hadn't why then didn't they believe all the previous signs they witnessed? (A Pharisee and/or a Sadducee was present at the majority of all of Jesus' miracles.)

I'm afraid that in the modern signs and wonders movement are a large number of participants whose minds are already made up:  they don't want to believe in Jesus, they want supernatural entertainment. I do not question the sincerity of the leadership.  I do, however, raise doubts about the followers.  The purpose of the sign or wonder should produce a greater commitment to Jesus Christ and encourage closer fellowship and obedience to Him.  It is not religious showmanship. 

Another Scripture passage brings the message of not seeking signs home even further:  the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).   The crux of the passage is verse 31:  "'If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

America is a land blessed with a church on almost every corner.  Bibles are openly stocked on store shelves.  The gospel is preached continually on radio and television.  If we apply the lesson of the Rich Man and Lazarus, America has no business expecting signs and wonders.  We have Moses and the Prophets in abundance.  If we won't believe them, no sign or wonder will change anything.

The Jewish nation of Jesus' day witnessed many signs and wonders at His and the Apostles' hands, yet very few believed.  They earnestly sought after Jesus to see more and more wonders, but they still didn't believe.  Recognize a parallel?  More and more Americans  are seeking after signs and wonders.  Are they becoming converted, or  are they seeking religious entertainment?  After the meeting, are they more inclined to study the Scripture, and to seek Christ more, or do they flit from one meeting to another?

I cannot provide these answers.  I can challenge Christian leaders to question the motives of their followers, and nudge them into the right direction. 

America has no right to seek signs and wonders.  They are a sovereign act by a sovereign God.  The only thing we have a right to seek after is greater knowledge of the Scriptures and Jesus Himself.  If the signs and wonders movement were the cutting edge of a national revival, like its adherents claim, then I would expect that by now America would be radically changed.  It would be changed because the members of America's churches would have first been changed, and then put their faith into action.  I'm afraid I don't see that happening. America needs to stop seeking signs and wonders.  It needs to get back to the simplicity of the message of the Bible, and to put it into practice.

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