The prominence of the miraculous in the mission of the church of the first few centuries was not a source of embarrassment to earlier historians. And it shouldn’t be for us either. We believe that God is God, and that He does not change.
In other words, the fact that God should act today in a manner consistent with how we see Him acting in the Bible should be a cause of celebration not surprise, and certainly not embarrassment!
In fact, for those who hold an evangelical view of Scripture, we should actually desire and even expect God to act consistently with the revelation He has given us.
Edward Gibbon was judiciously reflecting the statements of earlier historians. Eusebius (3rd-4th Century) sought to do likewise and quotes theologian and apologist Irenaeus, writing at the end of the 2nd Century:
‘So it is that in His name those who truly are His disciples, having received grace from Him, put it to effectual use for the benefit of their fellow-men, in proportion to the gift each one has received from Him.
Some drive out demons really and truly, so that often those cleansed from evil spirits believe and become members of the church; some have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances;
others, by the laying on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health; and before now, as I said, dead men have actually been raised and have remained with us for many years.
In fact, it is impossible to enumerate the gifts which throughout the world the church has received from God and in the name of Jesus Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate, and every day puts to effectual use for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving no one and making profit out of no-one: freely she received from God, and freely she ministers…
Similarly, we hear of many members of the church who have prophetic gifts and by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men’s secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God,’ (Quoted in Eusebius, History of the Church, Penguin Classics [UK Edition] p209-210)
This is a stunning picture of the church serving the community in the power of prayer, in the power of the Holy Spirit. While the church in many countries may not always feel she has abundant material resources, she must never ever forget the power and authority given her to bring someone into the presence of God.
‘Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”’ (Acts 3:6)
Such moments not only bring grace to an individual, but can be the doorway to whole communities.
Next time, we’ll look at Gibbon’s further reflections on the church’s impact and see that it wasn’t only miracles, but also a different kind of morality that helped commend the Christian faith to the waiting world.
© 2008 Lex Loizides