Category Archives: history

The Sacred Theater of the Cevennes

A Secret Huguenot Assembly Captured

By Marv

Note: After nearly a century of peace, persecution of the Huguenots, the French Protestants, flared up again under Louis XIV, when he declared Protestantism illegal in 1685. Those who did not convert nor managed to flee faced death, imprisonment or condemnation to the galleys. One major pocket of resistance was the mountainous Cevennes region in the south. There believers continued to meet in secret “Assemblies,” sometimes in caves, literally “underground.”

As the authorities continued to hunt them down, open war resulted in this area between 1702 and 1704. These particular Huguenots became known as the “Camisards,”  and many testimonies have survived of signs and wonders among them. Many prophesied, even very young children. Often they were warned by the Spirit of impending danger from enemy forces, and were saved from death or capture.

From several of those who eventually escaped to England, a collection of testimonies of these marvels appears in a book titled Le Théatre Sacré des Cévennes (The Sacred Theater of the Cevennes). Here is an excerpt of one such testimony by a man named Jean Cavalier, recorded January 1707 (translation mine).

There was beginning to be a lot of talk around about the “Prophets” of our region, stories you’d hear. So when some friends invited me to one of these prayer “Assemblies,” though I was just a kid of 15 or 16 and  not exactly given to devotion,  I jumped on the chance, thinking that I might see there some of those “Inspired” ones who said such strange things. But no sooner had I entered the barn where everyone was, that I noticed a boy lying on his back going through curious agitations.  This started to freak me out and really put me off. But then he  started to speak, and he said among other things that there were some persons there in the gathering who had come merely out of curiosity, and in a mocking spirit, and that if they did not repent, God would point them out and they’d be  put to shame. He added some other things like this, so clearly painting a picture of me, that he could not have represented my state of mind better if he had access to the very depths of my heart. And this shook me up no small bit. In my limited mindset I figured these folks for some kind of fortune tellers, as some people said. But anyway, this little “soothsayer” has spoken of persons–plural–and so I imagined that I was not the only one in there who found it all weird. So I hoped I’d escape notice, being only one of many, and I wished at that moment I was thirty miles away from there. I was repenting–of my decision to come–and I determined to make for the door and get out of there as fast as I could. Not only was I upset and frightened at this little boy’s calling out my very thoughts, but I was scared that he would call me by name or something even worse. I had never in my life found my self in such a predicament.

But it got worse. With my only thought and desire to get out of there, I saw another very young boy–directly in my path–between me and the door–fall to the floor in even more violent agitations than his comrade, so to speak, and cry out loud that there was a person of ill will trying to leave, and that they should post people at the door to stop him lest he go and denounce the Assembly. Then this new “soothsayer” began to say out loud with the most perfect precision the things I had been saying to myself as the other one had begun speaking. Not only this, but he even called out my first and last names, and came and grabbed my arm, at which point he added several things to get me to humble myself before God, to repent, and to give Him glory etc. My inner trepidation turned to outright terror and I froze. I was cornered, because this last boy had spoken of one single person,–obviously me! As for the door–forget that. My God! I said to myself, who are these people? And who told these little boys everything that was in my heart? What am I going to do if they come at me? What will happen to me? What will my parents say? I was in a fix, for sure. And yet, I added, these people talk about God. Had they been Witches, they wouldn’t be saying all the good things they were. They wouldn’t be praying such fine prayers. They wouldn’t be singing Psalms and the two children wouldn’t have exhorted me to repent. These thoughts calmed my mind a bit and led me to pray to God.

Then, something particular happened, which I must tell here. The second “soothsayer”–or rather Prophet–or I don’t know what–continued to speak. As he rattled off endless things against the morals of this perverse century, against the  idolatry of the Papists, against all sorts of superstitions, etc. All of a sudden he stopped his discourse and speaking in a different tone, said that there were several believers wandering in the fields and forest nearby looking for the Assembly, and that to bring them in, someone had to go out and sing a Psalm. I’d had a mind to volunteer to go and sing with them, the perfect excuse to get me out the door, but I didn’t dare, out of fear for the “soothsayers” at the door. A group went out and began to sing. As for me, I continued to pray to God as best I could. I thought it would be a good sign if the singing actually did bring in more people as the little Prophet had predicted. We’ll see, I said, if what he said comes true or maybe it was all just coincidence–the things he’d said about me. As I stood there by myself, lo and behold, the people came back in with a bunch of others brought in by the Psalm-singing. That really got to me, and set my mind whirling, for at least a quarter of an hour, on such matters as a kid my age never had in his whole life.

My opinion of the people began to change, as I reflected on things I had always heard, that it was only God who searches hearts and minds, that it could not be Satan who declared war on sin or glorified the name of God as they were doing at this Assembly. These thoughts really calmed me down, and even gave me joy.

Then a third young boy fell down like the others. After some agitations, he got up, full of the Spirit, and said something like this: “I assure you, my child, you are safe here in this this Assembly. Never fear; I am with you. And I want now to put my Word in your mouth, so that you may console my people.” This moved me even more, and fortified my heart, seeing that they were no longer talking about me the way they were before. Whereas before I had only prayed in fear and trembling, gasping for breath, now I began to ask fervently that He would be pleased to let me know His will, so that He would fill me with horror for those things, if ever they came not from Him, and on the other hand, if they were Gifts of His Grace that he would imprint them on my heart.

The young preacher prayed a wonderful prayer, to which I was extremely attentive, feeling propelled with a great zeal. He said next that the text of Scripture which was to be the subject of the message the Spirit was putting in his mouth was was Isaiah 55:1-2: ““Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” etc.

He spoke for two entire hours with an amazing ease, saying things so moving and wonderful that everyone was in tears, including me. … And the two hours passed like two minutes. But what child has the ability to speak like that? Everyone assured me the little boy did not know how to read. But even if he could, surely he would not have the capacity in himself to compose such a message much less to deliver it or to have the boldness for public speaking–and in [standard] French no less. …

As for me, as he preached, as the young inspired boy spoke various things which particularly touched me and which I took closely to heart, I experienced an unspeakable contentment. I was thrilled when he said that the least and the simplest were of great worth in God’s sight. That it was those who were the most destitute that He wanted to enrich, since Jesus Christ Himself came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. But one has to feel the misery, has to know the spiritual poverty and then to hunger and thirst, so as to be admitted to the banquet, to receive the wine and the mild, to be quenched in the river of His delights. My soul was overcome. I was outside of myself. It seemed to me that all these great things were for me alone. I was no longer wavering; my doubts vanished; I felt in myself that hunger and thirst for God’s graces. Yet in the sense of my deep unworthiness, my eyes became fountains of tears.

Pyro Techniques?

By Marv

There was a little girl, who had a little curl, applied directly to the forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid!

Speaking of Team Pyro

As a frequent reader there (Pyromaniacs), frequent writer here (To Be Continued…), I’ve known sooner or later it would happen. I find myself pretty much in their camp on most things–with one major exception–which happens also to be the subject of this blog–Continuationism. I knew eventually I’d have to post something to be applied directly to the horrid.

I figured I’d wait until one of the crew posted some cogent argumentation for Cessationism, and then counter with a well-reasoned, insightful, exegetically-based, Biblical response. But then Dan Phillips today offers a 26-worder in which he basically says: “Don’t bother.”

His pithy posting we can reproduce in toto (plus title):

Tersely put: “continuationism” self-refuting

The very fact that “continuationists” acknowledge the need to make their case to Christians by argument is, itself, a devastating and sufficient refutation of the position.

Now what are we to make of this epigram, which would seem to be a low and inside pitch, or to change metaphors, a little bit of choir practice? Mr. Phillips, sir, you force me to bring out the numbers.

1. As best as I can decipher his meaning, being a bear of little brain, I would paraphrase thus: Continuationism is about the showy-stuff. If you can’t show me the showy stuff, what good is to give me a bunch of telly stuff? Cessationists of this ilk are prone to refer to certain gifts as “spectacular” or  “dramatic,” with razzle dazzle like a kind of magic show:

Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate.

While a manifestation of the Holy Spirit may well be impressive, especially to those to whom His work is directed (e.g. 1 Cor 14:24-25), we would be wrong to expect Him to put on a show for us. His effects are deeper, directed toward spirit, heart and mind: “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3); conviction of “sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

2. Behind this statement lies a number of Cessationist misconceptions about how “spiritual gifts” work. This type of argumentation (much in the MacAruthur tradition) I call the Unicorn and Jackass show. Insist on a unicorn: a mythological beast, which never existed: such as a “gift of healing,” with which an individual is endued (something like an X-man super power), operating at will, always efficacious, instantaneous, permanent, irreversible. Or inerrant oral prophecy, which neither the Old nor New Testaments teach (the Scriptures yes, oral prophecy, no.) Then with this expectation bring out the jackasses. This can be done in as few as two words: Benny Hinn.

3. Note the formulation of his statement. Quotes around continuationists. Why? The use of “need” (always a red flag for misleading argumentation). I’d like to know who he is purporting to quote here as “acknowledging” this or that. Who knows? Maybe it’s Team Continuo here. I doubt it, but we do acknowledge the importance of Biblical argumentation.

4. Which makes it odd, coming from a blog that otherwise highly values “argumentation,” appeal to Scripture and right reason, that one of them would denigrate such in this case.

5. So often Cessationists accuse their Continuationist bretheren of basing their view on experience rather than the Scriptures–all the while doing this very thing themselves, as in this case.

6. So often Cessationists accuse their Continuationist bretheren of being “an evil and adulterous generation [who] seeks for a sign,” and then themselves insist on a “spectacular” sign, or else they will not believe the Scriptures.

7. It is the Scriptures themselves that teach Continuationism. We see both in the direct teaching of our Lord (John 14: 12) and of His apostles (1 Cor. 12-14), that it is the Father’s will, and to His glory that the Body of Christ continue Christ’s empowered ministry between Pentecost and Parousia. One looks in vain for valid support of the notion that any of this would cease within the first century.

8. We are called to pursue these gifts (1 Cor. 14:1), but to do so we must be convinced that the Scriptures do in fact teach that they are for today as well as for the first century. This cannot be done by experience, but only by examining the Scriptures. Whatever we do, we must do in faith, and faith must be grounded in the Word. Thus argumentation.

9. So anyway, if we show you something “spectacular,” you say, there are “lying wonders.” Just because it’s supernatural doesn’t mean it’s of God. Or if we demonstrate something clearly from the Scriptures, you ask “Tell me about your most recent spectacular miracle.”

10. A Continuationist is not one who can say “Lookie-lookie what I can do.” It’s not about possessing an ability in oneself. It is one who says, “Look here in the Word of God. Shall we not believe what God tells us?”

11. You might as well have someone who insists God is not doing that “prayer” thing any more. God is not answering prayer any more. Go on, show me. Pray something and lets see what happens. Sure, you hear stories about God answering prayer with specific fulfillment, but this is always somebody’s neighbor’s cousin’s hairdresser. Face it, these answers–if they happen at all–are coincidence, wishful thinking, psychosomatic. We many wonder at our lack or efficacity at prayer, when the Bible promises so much (James 5:16).

12. Anyway, to hold to Continuation is not to say that all happens now as it did for Christ and the apostles. Or that history has shown a constant and even presence of these gifts without fluctuation. What continues is God’s purpose, design, and provision, not His church’s specific performance in what He has provided. It is thus with every other aspect of the life of the Church. Why should “spiritual gifts” be any different. Some things nearly lost must be rediscovered (such as salvation by grace through faith), and the Church must always be seeking in the Scriptures to return to the faith taught by the apostles.

Another Reason Why the Historical Absence of the Spiritual Gifts Does Not Mean They Have Ceased

This is a guest post by Jesse Wisnewski, blogger at Reformed and Reforming and MDiv student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Back in February of this year I wrote a piece on why the apparent “absence” or “disparity” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e. revelatory and miraculous) is not a valid reason to contend for their absence today. Today I’m not going to rehash what I already said, but rather I’m going point to another reason why this position is invalid.

While reading through Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland’s Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult, I discovered that this particular historical argument for the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit is considered an argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantium), which is an informal fallacy of reasoning.

What is an Argument from Ignorance?

As defined by the authors, an argument from ignorance is:

This fallacy involves citing the absence of evidence for a proposition as evidence against it.  But of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (pg. 20).

In other words, just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean there isn’t anything.

For instance, if I were to learn something new today that happened in world history, this doesn’t mean that this fact wasn’t true until I learned it.  It has always been true, I just didn’t know that it was until I first read about it.

How Does this Disprove the Cessationist Postion on History?

Even though many cessationists point to the supposed lack of historical evidence for disproving the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today, the supposed lack of evidence is not evidence of their absence.

To claim that the supposed lack of historical evidence supports cessationism fails on two fronts:

First, it goes against history since there is a plethora of historical records (also see The Charismata in Church History).

Second, it goes against reason to say that the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.

Although miraculous activity may have surrounded certain times in Biblical history (Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the Apostles) this doesn’t mean that the Spirit of God was not working at any other time in between or after those clustered periods.

In the End

When I first became exposed to the [reformed] Doctrines of Grace, I tried to force myself to believe in the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit.  It wasn’t because I thought it was Biblical, I had some bad experiences and didn’t like what I was seeing around town, on T.V., and hearing on the radio.

After considering the typical reasons given in support of the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit, I just couldn’t go there.  The case for the apparent “absence” or “disparity” in the quality of the gifts of the Spirit in history and today is one of them.

I believe that this position fails to take into account the relationship of the sovereignty of God in relationship to the gifts, the historical evidence for their continuation, and the logical fallacy of pointing to the absence of evidence for the evidence of absence.

This is another reason why I am open to the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today.

Is That What History Really Teaches Us? (Response to CMP, part 5)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and Pen “Why I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part five.

Michael,

The unspoken premise behind your historical argument is that over the centuries the church has looked pretty much the way Jesus intended.  Really?  Anything that goes missing, then, is like the dog that didn’t bark, prima facie evidence that the thing has dried up at the source.  It is something that God just isn’t doing any more.  Once we start playing that game, however, it is difficult to know when to stop.

There are a number of ways to respond to your part five, “An Argument from History.”  As for your specific citations of Chrysostom and Augustine, Scott has countered these quite handily in an earlier post here.  Jesse Wisnewski makes a similar argument at Reformed and Reforming here, and also makes the observation here that it illustrates the fallacy of an argument from ignorance.  Then there’s the point that you take us on a snipe hunt for the elusive “supernatural sign gifts”, showing that if you set your definitions and expectations just right, you can be assured of coming up empty handed.  This is your own “glaring weakness” in commenting on about Jack Deere’s argument, where you say:

He equates evidence that the historic church believed in the miraculous with evidence that they were continuationists. You can’t equate the two without misrepresenting what is at stake.  The historic Christian church has believed in the miraculous, they have not believed in the continuation of the supernatural sign gifts, by and large.

On the contrary, Michael, I’m afraid it is you who have misrepresented the situation by insisting on your own minimalist definition.  Continuationism in the first place is not about “gifts” but that Jesus Christ:

…continues His work of glorifying His Father, building His Church, and advancing His Kingdom through the ongoing, vital and dynamic interconnection He maintains with those who are in Him, accomplished through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit…

From my earlier post “What Continues?

This empowering presence is referenced in a number of forms such as prayer in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), the prayer of faith for healing (Jas. 5:15), and signs and wonders (Acts 4:30).  The phenomenon that this empowerment is parceled out through the different members of the body gives rise to the concept of “gifts” (1 Cor. 12:4).  Parallel terms here include “service,” (v. 5), “activities” (v. 6), “manifestations” (v. 7).  Elsewhere they are called “distributions” (Heb. 2:4, though typically translated “gifts”).

Isolating the term “gifts” only serves to distort the issue, particularly when pared down to the scripturally dubious category “sign gifts.”  This category serves as a nice sharp container where the used, hazardous and unwanted bits may be safely disposed of, but it is not only absent from church history, it doesn’t even appear in the Bible (more here.)  And I’ll have more to say as I respond to your part seven.

I want to take a somewhat different tack, however, in responding to your argument from history.  As I suggest in my first paragraph, the same kind of disappearing act occurs with other aspects of apostolic teaching, and I don’t think you, at least, would see these as evidence God is no longer doing that sort of thing.

1.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  It is amazing how the sharp edge of this central apostolic truth goes blunt shortly after the death of the apostles.  The Shepherd of Hermas, for example (ca. AD 150), which is listed among the “Apostolic Fathers” proclaims that once you are baptized, you can sin and repent only one time (Mandate 4, chapter 3).  If this were true, we’d all be toast, of course.  Thank God for the butter of His grace!

We again pick up a clear understanding of grace with the Protestant Reformation, but what are we to say about the intervening centuries?  The truth wasn’t completely absent, but unmixed expressions of it are scarce for several centuries.  We now have some five centuries since the doctrine’s recovery, but do we conclude that in the interval God had withdrawn sola gratia?

2.  Believer’s baptism.  Speaking of baptism, I understand your ministry statement of faith is deliberately short and broad, but I think you personally hold to believer’s baptism by immersion, if I am not mistaken.  At any rate, I think this was the “normative” apostolic practice, but it did not fare so well in the history of the church.  Even the Protestant Reformation largely did not restore this, except in what some would designate as “fringe groups and cults.”  Some really do argue for de facto paedobaptism from the course of history.  Would you?

3.  Premillennialism.  Understand that I am directing this specifically to you, Michael.  A number of people will not agree with this point, including Scott, but it is given as an example.  I believe you hold that the apostolic hope was premillennial, but that this understanding disappeared for the most part early in church history.  It had a resurgence around the nineteenth century.  So in the sweep of history, it is not that different from the time frame you attribute to continuationism, which you say was not “in any way normative before the twentieth century.”

This historical premise is definitely used by some as an argument against premillennialism.  What about you?  Are you a de facto amillennialist?

So what do we really learn from history?  Don’t we end up proving a little too much if we take your approach?

These are just a few of examples.  You could probably suggest any number of reasons why particular doctrines or practices ceased to be “normative” over the years, without suggesting that God was “no longer doing that.”  Indeed, we ought to exhaust every other possibility before going with that option.  Ignorance?  Tradition?  Clerical status?  Biblical illiteracy?  Misunderstanding?  Distortion over time?  Fear?  Disbelief?  Poor leadership?  Politics?

The church is often likened to a ship.  Over the years wooden sailing vessels require periodic maintenance.  Their bottoms becomes fouled and their wood suffers from rot.  The barnacles need to be scraped off and the original woodwork restored.  Unfortunately, some of our ecclesiastical institutions of long standing over time became in many ways more barnacle than timber.

From time to time more extensive refits have been necessary. The best known is probably the Protestant Reformation, which largely focused on soteriology.  Today, I humbly suggest,  it is time for recovering apostolic pneumatology.

Semper reformanda.

The Charismata in Church History

by Scott

One argument that seems to arise from the side of cessationists is that church history records that signs, wonders, miracles and healings ceased soon after the first century and with the formation of the New Testament canon. We have noted in the past that such a view cannot be faithfully established from a biblical-theological perspective. But what does history attest to?

We see this in certain words of the early church father, John Chrysostom (AD 347-407):

‘This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?’ (Homilies on First Corinthians. Homily XXIX, 1)

More evidence to support the cessationist case is shown through such words of Augustine (AD 354-430):

‘In the earliest times, “the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues,” which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.’ (Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John. Homily VI, 10)

Finally, confessions of faith such as the Westminster Confession of Faith make this statement in its opening section on the Holy Scripture:

‘Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.’

And, no doubt, there are other church fathers and variable sources that could be quoted in support of cessationism.

Thus, the argument goes that signs and wonders, miracles and healings, as well as other such things as prophecy and tongues, were only given in the time of the first apostles to authenticate their message, since the gospel and apostolic writings of Scripture were not yet complete. But, with the completion of the canon of Scripture by John (the apostle), and with these writings later being compiled into the New Testament, there was no longer any need for such gifts. Not only that, but cessationists then go on to support their argument by showing that the church fathers testified that such gifts of the Spirit had ceased, proving they were only for a limited time of authenticating the gospel message.

Yet, the story cannot stop there. We cannot find ourselves quoting a few church fathers as solid evidence for the ceasing of such gifts. Most cessationists, if not all, would claim that the history argument is not 100% evidence against the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, signs and wonders. But many will, no doubt, be ready to use such to support the cessationist view.

Therefore, let’s take a moment to consider the words of some other church fathers and their specific thoughts about the gifts of the Spirit, specifically miracles, healings, prophecy and tongues. Below are four church fathers in particular:

Justin Martyr (approx. AD 100-165)

‘Therefore, just as God did not inflict His anger on account of those seven thousand men, even so He has now neither yet inflicted judgment, nor does inflict it, knowing that daily some [of you] are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God.’ (Dialogue with Trypho, ch.39)

‘For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us. And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven.’ (Dialogue with Trypho, ch.39)

Irenaeus (approx. AD 120-202)

‘Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them [on account of such miraculous interpositions]. For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister [to others]. (Against Heresies, Book 2, ch.32, 4)

‘Nor does she [the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error.’ (Against Heresies, Book 2, ch.32, 5)

‘In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit…’ (Against Heresies, Book 5, ch.6, 1)

Novatian (approx. AD 210-280)

‘…they [the first disciples] were henceforth armed and strengthened by the same Spirit, having in themselves the gifts which this same Spirit distributes, and appropriates to the Church, the spouse of Christ, as her ornaments. This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.’ (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, ch.29)

Gregory Neocaesarea (AD 213-270)

Consider these words from church historian, Justo Gonzalez, as he chronicles some of the things that took place in the life of Gregory Neocaesarea.

‘The most famous of these workers of miracles was Gregory Thaumaturgus – a name that means “wonderworker.” He was from the region of Pontus, and had been converted through the learned witness of Origen. But upon returning to Pontus and becoming bishop of Neocaesarea, his great evangelistic success was due, not to his theological arguments, but to the miracles that he was said to perform. These were mostly miracles of healing, but we are also told that he could control the course of a river in flood, and that the apostles and the Virgin appeared to him and guided his work.’ (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, p99)

In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green quotes an early church source, The Apostolic Constitutions, making note of the charismata gifts:

‘A passage in the Apostolic Constitutions crystallizes the point well: ‘These gifts were first bestowed upon us, the apostles, when we were about to preach the gospel to every creature, and afterwards were necessarily provided to those who had come to faith through our agency, not for the advantage of those who perform them, but for the conviction of the unbelievers, that those whom the word did not persuade the power of signs might put to shame.’ The charismata given in the apostolic age [first century] had not been revoked: they continued in the Church in the third century.’ (Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, p270)

Finally, it would be interesting to read some of Augustine’s words near the end of his life. Though many cessationists might look to quote him as a pointer towards a more cessationist view in the early church, as was shown in the beginning of this article, what we don’t realise is that Augustine actually had a change of theology near the end of his life.

Michael Green specifically points to his own study of the early church fathers as a reason why he shifted away from a more hard cessationist view, and he quotes these words of Augustine in his own reflections.

‘I am encouraged, in my recantation [from his hard cessationist thoughts in his earlier edition of this book], to be in the good company of Augustine who, in his earlier writings, believed that the charismatic gifts had died out in the Church and were no longer needed. But by the time he wrote The City of God, however, he had realized his scepticism was unwarranted. In Book 22 he tells how he changed his mind “once I realized how many miracles were occurring in our day…It is only two years ago that the keeping of records was begun here in Hippo, and already, at this writing, we have nearly seventy attested miracles.”‘ (Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, p271)

To read more about the changes in Augustine’s theology, one should read City of God, Book 22, Ch. 8, which is specifically subtitled, Of Miracles Which Were Wrought that the World Might Believe in Christ, and Which Have Not Ceased Since the World Believed. Now, what one will notice is that Augustine specifically refers to healings and miracles that happened through relics, which evangelicals have tended to not agree with such a practise.

So the words of Augustine will be challenging to many evangelicals. I am personally not closed to such, not so much to utilise Augustine’s comments to bolster my own theology, but for knowing how things in biblical times were not always done within our prescribed framework: Jesus had a spitting ministry at times with healing (see Mark’s Gospel), Isaiah walked around naked for quite a while (see Isaiah 20:1-3), Elisha’s bones raised a man (see 2 Kings 13:14-21), handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were used for healing (see Acts 19:11-12). And, if we will pay attention, we will see God has been doing things ‘outside the box’ from creation until now.

Interesting and challenging, not always fitting in OUR boxes to say the least.

Therefore, church history does not unequivocally support cessationism. No doubt there were some cessationists, but there were also quite a few continuationists.

In the end, the Scripture stands as the starting point for forming our theology. Still, it is interesting to study history, since our faith has been walked out over thousands of years. We are not alone in this. And, with such a consideration of history, we have seen that, in all probability, God never ceased in displaying His glory and power through signs, wonders, miracles, healings, prophecy and other various spiritual gifts.

To end, I point out one other resource that might be of great interest to those who would like to study about the charismata of 1 Corinthians 12 throughout church history. It is Ronald Kidd’s Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church. I have not yet had the opportunity to read it, but it was suggested in another book on the charismatic gifts, which was written by a friend of mine.