Tag Archives: signs and wonders

Report from the Street

By Marv

” The meat is in the street,” John Wimber used to say.

His aphorism goes back to Jesus’ words in John 4:32 and 34

 “I have food to eat that you do not know about.  My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

Jesus had just prophesied open the heart of a fallen, theologically-confused woman and brought salvation to a village. Though He was tired and thirsty (vv. 6-7) and doubtless also hungry, seeing God glorified in the goodness mediated through His own words and actions was more deeply satisfying than the choicest meat and drink.

I recall being cautioned, in Seminary, against Wimber’s contention that the kind of empowered ministry Jesus engaged in here was just the kind of thing we as disciples should do, following in His footsteps. This, despite His explicit instructions immediately afterward to see the “harvest” as He did as well as His reminder that they are commissioned to be “reapers.” The works He did in the Father’s name, everyone who believes in Him will… may… should… do in His name (John 14:12). Let’s get it and let’s do it.

I have a sweet story from some who are learning to “do the stuff” or rather who are going out and doing it. A team of students from a training program at a Dallas church step out each week to lift up their eyes to the Spirit’s leading and do the works in His power which have been prepared for them. Here’s what happened two weeks ago today.

In the morning team leader “C” found himself driving to the church out of his usual route, for some reason. Passing a coffeehouse he had seen but not visited, he sensed his attention being drawn to it and figured this might the spot the Spirit was sending his team to that day.

So there they went, and when C stepped in and saw a familiar face, he knew one of the reasons they were there. The man was a minister–an evangelist–and C had known him slightly, as a customer in a different coffeehouse where C had once been an employee. So C and another team member, “M” (both men, as it happens) sat down and began to chat with him.

Meanwhile, students “F” and “S” (women, as it happens) took a look around, looking and listening for what the Spirit might be saying to them. An adjoining room where patrons sat sipping Java had artwork displayed along the walls. One odd painting caught F’s eye, because it had a small inscription in French, her native language. It read “Pour le corps,” that is “For the body.” Across the top of it a row of human figures stood holding their hands on their bellies. Below them a vicious-looking blob with bared fangs turned menacingly toward a pair of vaguely tear-shaped objects. Weird picture.

“Looks like a liver to me,” F told S, about the lopsided teardrops, and they decided to go for it. The painting hung on the wall over a lady, like a sign, and after introducing themselves to her, they casually asked her if perhaps she had had issues with her liver.

In fact she had, for not a week earlier she had been diagnosed with liver cancer. She declined their offer to pray for her healing, however, first since she was a Muslim and second because she had confidence in the treatment she had been prescribed. She was interested in talking to the ladies however. As it happens the lady was Turkish, while F is French and S Lebanese. And they talked about Jesus, who the lady, being Moslem, said did not die on the cross. Our two ladies explained not only how He did, but why. In short, they preached her the gospel.

Though she declined prayer for healing, she was happy to let them give her a blessing as she was leaving. So bless her they did, with a request for Jesus to reveal Himself to her–even in her dreams, as is reportedly not uncommon among Muslims. Saying goodbye, she kissed them on the cheek, one cultural feature all three had in common. Would she be healed? Would she come to faith in Jesus? This we likely will now know. But did she hear God’s word and sense His love from God’s people? Without question.

Meanwhile C and M were still talking with the coffee-loving minister, and by this time speaking words of encouragement over him, for he was sorely in need of encouragement it seems. F and S joined them, as their lady had left, and a mental image of a little girl flashed through F’s mind. She thought “daughter.” At the same time a cloud-like shape in the mottled floor pattern seemed to jump out at her, reminding her of a “thought balloon” you see in the comics. Had the man been thinking about his daughter?

A second before she could ask, M “stole her thunder.” “Do you have a daughter?” he asked the man. In fact he did, though he had lost contact with her for years. She was grown and living in New York. But she had been on his mind, a great deal, as he was hoping and praying to be able to restore their relationship, which had long since become estranged. So they prayed for this, of course.

Now as for what happened as they were finishing up, you have to understand that this was July in Texas and it was a typical sultry Dallas day, under a clear sky, the hot, humid air lay motionless on us all day. I can testify to that.

C’s prayer for the man had been, among other likely phrases, that God’s Spirit would blow afresh over his ministry–which refreshment he needed. They had stepped out the front door, accompanying him toward his car, when a sudden gust of wind came along, nearly knocking the table umbrellas over, and picking up fallen leaves and pedals from the bushes and swirling them in a vortex.

The man and our team stared in amazement. The event was so striking, several patrons inside the shop ran out to see what was happening. The moment then stepped off the curb, however, the wind stopped.

One man who had stepped out was impressed. “Would you mind praying for me too?” he asked. And so they did.

What do we make of this kind of thing? Acts quality? Not quite, but frankly, I think it’s getting there. Not momentous, not earth-shattering. No thousands were saved. Perhaps not one person was saved through this outing. But people were loved in Jesus name. People heard the good news. People were encouraged. People were prayed for and blessed. And for those with eyes to see, God showed Himself alive and well.

Is it easy enough to toss off every one of these details as imagination, coincidence, simple natural occurrence. Absolutely. And please do so if that is what you wish.

But I think it is a little, sweet example of how the Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus through His people and brings glory to the Father. And it is useful for illustrating a few of the ways the Lord speaks to us, as Jesus promised He would, and leads us into the works prepared beforehand that we should walk in.

It’s a remarkable report, or I guess I wouldn’t be writing about it. But really, if we believe our Lord, this is simply normal Christian life.



“Sign Gifts”?

by Marv

“Are the sign gifts for today?” one asks.

Well, excuse me, but if we wish to arrive at the right answer, hadn’t we better start with the right question?  And the above is just not the right question.  It is a wrong question, because it presumes the existence of a category called “sign gifts” in the first place.

For example, the very title of Daniel Wallace’s “Two Views on the ‘Sign Gifts’: Continuity vs. Discontinuity” casts the debate in cessationist terms.  Even so, note the quotes around “sign gifts.”  These disappear, however, in the body of the article.  The problem is, while the concept of “sign gifts” provides a convenient holding tank for, as Wallace lists them: “the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, miracles, and healings,” the designation is not a Biblical one, as the following evidence demonstrates:

1. The phrase “sign gift” is found nowhere in the Scriptures.  This observation is only a starting place, since many theological terms are not found as such in the Bible.  However, it is a fact worth noting.

2.  There are no passages where “sign gifts” are separated from other spiritual gifts, as if they formed a distinct category.  Gifts such as “prophecy” and “tongues” appear right along with “teaching” and “mercy.”

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 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. (Rom. 12:6-8)

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-31)

3.  Paul uses the term “sign” (Greek: semeion) unambiguously for only one gift, tongues.

Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers… (1 Cor. 14:22a)

It is a question of interpretation whether in the second half of the verse, Paul meant to call prophecy a “sign” too.  The Greek does not have the word for sign here, though it might be thought to be understood from the preceding clause.  The ESV takes it this way:

“…while prophecy is a sign3 not for unbelievers but for believers,”

But includes a footnote: “Greek lacks a sign.

The NASB has a similar reading.

On the other hand, the NIV takes the opposite position:

“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.”

The majority of English translations concur, for example:  Wycliffe, Tyndale, KJV, RSV, NKJV, NET, NRSV, NLT, CEV, HCSB.

4.  Paul does refer to “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12), though he does not say what these are, but only that they were performed “with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”

5.  Luke refers to signs throughout Acts, and in one passage it specifically refers to a healing as a “sign.”  However, he never refers to “spiritual gifts” at all, much less “sign gifts.” In acts “signs” and “wonders” and “mighty acts” are different ways of indicating what we call miracles.

“What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” (Acts 14:16-17)

For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. (v. 22)

This is in reference to the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, which was performed by Peter (Acts 3:6).  If this is an example of a “spiritual gift,” then perhaps there is some justification for calling it a “sign-gift.”  Yet, Luke is not calling it both a sign and a gift; the word Paul uses for spiritual “gift,” charisma, is not in Luke’s vocabulary at all.  He does use the entirely different word dorea, but this by this he refers to the Holy Spirit Himself who is said to be given as a gift to believers.

6.  The author of Hebrews at least uses “sign” and “gift” in the same verse, though he speaks of these in parallel, along with “wonders” and “miracles.”  This verse is sometimes used as if “gifts” were here specifically those so-called “sign gifts,” but it is not what

“…while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb. 2:4)

7.  There is one other possible source of the concept “sign gifts,” the references in the longer ending of the gospel of Mark.  These verses do not appear to be original, however, as early manuscripts omit them entirely.  However, they do refer to what elsewhere are listed as “gifts” by the term “sign”:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. (Mark. 16:17-18, 20)

I would venture to say that these verses are by far the strongest “Biblical” argument for a category called “sign gifts.”  Perhaps the phrase originally came out of this passage, before there came to be a general consensus that they are not genuine.  I’m not sure if cessationists would be better off with these verses than without them, but in any case the passage has doubtful authenticity and makes a poor basis for doctrine one way or the other.

So to summarize, the Scriptural case for a subset of spiritual gifts, identified as “sign gifts” is far from compelling.  As a continuationist, I do not consent to define the debate in those terms.  It lends a certain subtle circularity to the argument that yields a bit of ground to cessationism, because “sign gift” tends to suggest a narrow purpose and thus limited utility.  If you are a cessationist, I suggest trying to make your case without resorting to this term.  If you are a continuationist, you probably don’t use the term anyway, but if you do maybe you should reconsider.