Monday, August 30, 2010

Wilhelm à Brakel on cessationism

Here's something I ran across recently in one of those click-of-a-click-of-a-click operations:

In volume 2 of à Brakal’s [sic] “Reasonable Service” he discusses the marks of true and false churches. The sixth mark he refutes as a mark of a false church is the continuing presence of miracles. To this à Brakal [sic] replies:

“Sixthly, miracles are proposed as one of the distinguishing marks of the church. To this we reply:
(1) Miracles do not belong to the distinguishing marks of the true church. This is nowhere to be found in the Word of God.

Of course, Brakel is shadowboxing with the church of Rome.

(2) Miracles are not intended for believers, but for unbelievers; thus the church has no need of them. If one were desirous of bringing an unbeliever into the true church, one would have to perform a wonder time and again, which, however, the proponents of this mark do not do.

That’s a half-truth. In both the OT and NT, God also performs miracles for believers. The evidentiary role of miracles is not their only role. Miracles can also be acts of mercy, for the benefit of God’s needy people.

(3) The performance of and boasting in miracles in the post-apostolic era, as a means of the confirmation of doctrine, is a distinguishing mark of the anti-Christian church. “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9). This certainly confirms that the performance of miracles does not belong to the distinguishing marks of the church.” (Wilhelmus à Brakal [sic], The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pg. 29.)

i) That’s an overstatement. It’s true that miracles can be demonic. As such, the evidentiary value of miracles needs to be qualified. They’re not a stand-alone proof.

But to my knowledge, some of the church fathers appealed to contemporary miracles in the life of the church to challenge pagans. And I don’t see why we should automatically treat that appeal as a distinguishing mark of the anti-Christian church. Was the ancient church apostate through-and-through?

Of course, this doesn’t mean we should automatically credit their claims. But by the same token, this doesn’t mean we should dismiss their claims out of hand.

In my opinion, neither side of the charismatic debate has a knockdown argument from Scripture. So we can’t predict what God will do in this respect. We should take a wait-and-see attitude. Whether or not he intends to perform miracles in church history is something we must discover by observation.

ii) Moreover, as Andy points out a little later (see below), demonic miracles aren’t just a post-apostolic phenomena. Conversely, there’s a sense in which the NT church was a wonder-working church. So where does that leave the evidentiary status of miracles on Andy’s view? Was the NT church the “anti-Christian church”?

Does the possibility of demonic miracles vitiate the evidentiary value of miracles? If so, what about the miracles of Christ and the Apostles (e.g. 2 Cor 12:12)? Or Moses, Elisha, and Elisha?

In his zeal to disprove Pentecostalism, Andy is shooting a hole in the bottom of his own boat, too.

Shifting to Andy, who posted the material by Brakel:

Isn’t ironic that the continuists claim to follow Scripture, hence their practice of charismata, yet Scripture nowhere states that miracles are a distinguishing characteristic of the Church. In fact, Scripture takes it for granted that false teacher may perform “miracles.” (Deut. 13:1-5; 2 Thess. 2:9). In fact, Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees for not believing in His miracles; He rebuked their unbelief of His teaching and the Scriptures. The warning of Deut. 13:1-5 is surely behind this fact.

Really? Didn’t Jesus say, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:37-38)?

I once knew a missionary who claimed that miracles were, in his words, “the dinner bell to salvation.” I watched him preach and pray for those who came forward to his altar calls. I can’t recall a single miracle. No doubt there were many in his imagination, but there were certainly no verifiable miracles. I don’t buy the claims of healing from headaches or back pain.

i) That’s a valid criticism, but the existence of charlatans hardly falsifies the existence of miracles in the church age.

ii) Moreover, this is inconsistent with his admission of demonic miracles. How can he say there are no verifiable miracles during the church age if he grants the existence of demonic miracles during the church age? He seems to be reaching for any objection he can find, whether or not these objections are mutually consistent.

iii) In addition, what does he mean by “verifiable” miracles? Many miracles in Scripture are essentially private events. If we didn’t have the record of Scripture we wouldn’t know they ever occurred. So there’s no presumption that no miracle occurs just because it was not a spectacular, public event.

Moreover, à Brakal’s [sic] point is dead on: where are the people performing verifiable miracles over and over to bring unbelievers into the Church. Indeed the Charismatic doctrine of faith precludes this. On the Charismatic scheme, miracles occur for those who have the faith to believe for their miracle, hence an unbeliever could never receive a miracle. If miracles are to convince unbelievers, we have a catch-22 on our hands. Those who need miracles and for whom they exist can never have one!

That’s fallacious. In principle, an unbeliever could witness a miracle which God performed for the sake of a believer.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, Your profile indicates that you are a semicessationist. What does that mean? Thanks.