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miracles etc

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 year ago

 

There are a couple of important things left unsaid in one of my recent sermons... some of them quite deliberately.

 

Sheep

 

Firstly, there is the common theme of sheep running through the readings. I deliberately didn't dwell on this, because it could be confusing. There are two different and incompatible metaphors here:

 

  • Jesus as the lamb of God.

 

  • Jesus as the shepherd.

 

These are as far as I can tell unrelated themes. To attempt to correlate them is both confused and confusing.

 

Many commentaries and other resources relating to the RCL lessons for this Sunday do attempt such a a correlation. I am unconvinced.

 

How God acts

 

Secondly, there is the question of how my claim that miracles are to bring glory to god relates to John 3:16 and similar passages and theology. Surely the Resurrection was a miracle? Surely, it may be argued, its principle function was to save us, rather than to bring glory to God?

 

Yes, the Resurrection is a miracle, the most important miracle of all. But no, its function was not salvation. This is a subtle but important distinction, which I didn't have time to deal with in the service, nor would it have been appropriate.

 

 

Most Christians don't need to split hairs like I'm about to.

 

But probably all preachers should be aware of, and comfortable with, the distinctions I'm going to make below. Ignorance of them can lead to serious errors. So hold on to your hats...

 

The Christ-event consists of three events:

 

  • The Incarnation.

 

  • The Crucifixion.

 

  • The Resurrection.

 

Of these, only the third is an event similar to the raising of Dorcas. The Incarnation is a mystery, and the most audacious of the three claims. Eastern Orthodox theology recognises this by its focus on Christmas as the most important event of the church year, in contrast to Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies which tend to focus instead on Easter.

 

This distinction is unfortunately far too subtle for many preachers. How often have we heard one say that the Resurrection is God's supreme act of love, or is the way to salvation, or something similar? This may be good rhetoric on occasions, but it is also false and dangerous.

 

It is dangerous because it leads us to misunderstand the other miracles, and to therefore expect miracles in the wrong context today. I believe they still happen. But I also believe that they are part of God's revelation rather than his provision. And again, this is a distinction lost on many preachers.

 

One result of this widespread misunderstanding of the role of miracles has been the recent trend towards cessationism, the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and healing, ceased being practiced early on in Church history. This view generally ignores the fact that such gifts were practiced in the Old Testament too; Once this is acknowledged, cessationism becomes an unlikely idea.

 

 

The cessationist view (a parody)

 

The End of the Apostolic Age was the most significant event in all of history. Up until that point, we observe God in action. God creates, God speaks, God heals, God parts the waters, God raises Lazarus, and Jesus, and Dorcas, and others from death.

 

But then something happens that changes the whole relationship of God to creation. The End of the Apostolic Age. The most significant milestone in all of history. More significant than the Fall, more significant than the first Christmas, more significant even than Easter or Pentecost. Why? Because none of those changed the underlying nature of God. But the End of the Apostolic Age did exactly that. It was then that God decided to leave us on our own from now on.

 

Cessationism is at least partly motivated by a failure to observe miracles here and now. It can also be a reaction against the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, which are based on the affirmation that all gifts of the Spirit still occur.

 

But I think cessationism is better seen as a reaction against a particular belief that is often part of a pentecostal or charismatic theology, and which is equally wrong and dangerous to the cessationist view: The view that God will do miracles on demand in order to satisfy our needs, if only we have enough faith. This view is not quite prosperity theology but often goes together with it. And it is equally unsupported by Scripture, and by the Spirit, and by the Church. Them's fighting words I know!

 

Cessationism is generally promoted by the Evangelical faction of the church, but is very similar in its implications to extreme liberal theology. At the risk of accidental parody, liberal theology teaches that God does not act now because (it is claimed) God has never acted. All of God's apparent actions are explained away as natural phenomena, and nothing more. I have no problem with the natural phenomena part of this, in that it is a basic assumption of science that the underlying Laws of Physics are never broken. It's the nothing more that is the problem. Them's more fighting words, and worthy of another page.

 

Back to the original topic. The Atonement is complete before Easter Sunday. God has, as John 3:16 says, given his son before Easter Sunday. The price is paid.

 

The Resurrection is not part of the Atonement, rather it bears witness to the Atonement, just as other miracles, past, present, and future, all bear witness to other aspects of God's action.

 

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