Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Signs, Wonders and Confusions

"One came to me, as she said, with a message from the Lord, to tell me that I was laying up treasures on earth, taking my ease, and minding only my eating and drinking. I told her God knew me better; and if He had sent her, He would have sent her with a more proper message."
The Journal of John Wesley, entry for January 16, 1760
The Church of God disagrees in her treatment of "supernatural" gifts. (That's a misnomer, actually, because any gift given by the Spirit is "supernatural" in origin.) Some Christians may want to discourage, disprove and dismiss all such attempts to prophesy, heal the sick, speak in other languages, etc. Others may ride the fence of uncertainty, reluctant to stop all such activity for fear of grieving the Holy Spirit yet uneasy with what they see as gross abuses and spurious imitations of the gifts. Still others may embrace uncritically almost anything that seems supernatural and declare it of God.

The problem isn't easy to resolve because, in times of revival, real manifestations of God, poor imitations of men and downright satanic disruptions may all be seen simultaneously.

Read Wesley's opinion on the matter in a Journal entry for November 25, 1759:
In the afternoon God was eminently present with us, though rather to comfort than convince. But I observed a remarkable difference, since I was here (Everton) before, as to the manner of the work. None now were in trances, none cried out, none fell down or were convulsed; only some trembled exceedingly, a low murmur was heard, and many were refreshed with the multitude of peace.

The danger was to regard extraordinary circumstances too much, such as outcries, convulsions, visions, trances; as if these were essential to the inward work, so that it could not go on without them. Perhaps the danger is, to regard them too little; to condemn them altogether; to imagine they had nothing of God in them, and were a hindrance to his work. Whereas the truth is 1) God suddenly and strongly convinced many that they were lost sinners; the natural consequence whereof were sudden outcries and strong bodily convulsions; 2) to strengthen and encourage them that believed, and to make His work more apparent, He favored several of them with divine dreams, others with trances and visions; 3) in some of these instances, after a time, nature mixed with grace; 4) Satan likewise mimicked this work of God in order to discredit the whole work; and yet it is not wise to give up this part any more than to give up the whole. At first, it was, doubtless, wholly from God. It is partly so at this day; and He will enable us to discern how far, in every case, the work is pure and where it mixes or degenerates.
This is a significant opinion; Wesley believed that manifestations could be a mixture of both real and spurious. He wasn't, though, led to the conclusion that one should put a stop to all such activity. Instead, he believed that God would reveal the wheat from the chaff.

I confess, this isn't easy for an analytical thinker like me—I want everything black or white and both categories on its best behavior! That's an impossibility where the Church is concerned, of course, because when has anything about the Church been simple? Nothing is simple because humans are involved. It can make a man groan for heaven!