We are living in a day that is consumed with the desire to see signs and wonders of God. Miracle hunters fill stadiums in search of signs and wonders that would amaze them or heal them or satisfy their curiosity about the existence of God. There is no lack of self proclaimed prophets who are willing to perform such signs and wonders for the seekers. Like a WWE Wrestling event—it’s filled with drama and action, but it’s really a hollow shell—it’s something other than the real thing.
During the Old Testament days, Moses warned the Israelites regarding false prophets (see Deut. 13). In the days of Jesus, the Prophet greater than Moses had arrived and the people were awestruck by his sovereign power. It was like nothing they had seen before. Yet, almost everyone was attracted to Jesus because of the signs and wonders rather than his gospel (John 6:1-2). In Matthew 12:38-42, a crowd of the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus looking for a sign. Jesus responded, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 12:39).
Does God still perform miracles in our day? Absolutely. In fact, the great miracle that God continues to perform among us is the salvation of a lost sinner as God miraculously brings the person to life spiritually. However, we also know that God is capable of hearing our prayers and bringing healing and restoration of health to a hurting or sick person as well. While God is still in the miracle business, we must admit that the sensationalism and craving of signs and wonders that we see today is not in alignment with what we see happening in the apostolic days. Below are five red flags to look for in a minister or ministry that falls into the category that Jesus himself warned about during his earthly ministry.
Beware of Replacing Bible Exposition
Today’s Word of Faith movement and many of the branches of the charismatic movement as a whole major on signs and wonders rather than plain Bible exposition. In many circles today—the Bible has become boring and irrelevant. One charismatic pastor in my town instructs his people to walk through the local mall “blowing the Holy Spirit” on people. Meanwhile, scores of church members in our town couldn’t tell you the difference between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mark. We are living in biblical illiterate times, and we don’t need less preaching, less exposition, less theology, and less Bible teaching in search for signs and wonders. Jesus warned, “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign” (Matt. 12:39). Jesus has already provided us with the ultimate sign in his resurrection from the dead.
As we examine the early church—even in a day when the miraculous gifts were normative and operative in the life of the local church—the people were centered together on the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. The regular preaching and teaching of the Bible in a systematic manner known as expository preaching (verse-by-verse) is necessary for the health and vitality of the body. When a church is hyper-focused on miracles and minimizes doctrine—the church will be like a sailboat on the ocean without a rudder. John MacArthur observes:
Any sensationalism inevitably is frustrated by the law of diminishing returns. People are never satisfied. They always want one more sign, one more miracle, one more show. To have maintained His influence over the people by the use of miracles, Jesus would have had to produce greater and greater sensations. Because the natural, carnal heart can never be satisfied, this year’s miracle would have become next year’s bore. His followers would only have been lovers of sensation, not lovers of God. 
Beware of Veiling the Gospel
If you listen to many of the charismatic teachers today, you will often hear them providing statistics about how many people were healed or delivered from evil spirits in their last meeting as opposed to how many were impacted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In jail ministry circles, it’s extremely common to hear lessons on how to be filled with the Spirit and speak in tongues as opposed to how to be reconciled to God through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross.
We must remember that God doesn’t bring people to heaven by miracles, signs, and wonders. He brings people out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ by the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Acts 26:18). When you hear of teachers who focus on miracles, deliverances, healings, tongues, and various other signs and wonders but they talk very little about the gospel—run for the hills.
Beware When Signs and Wonders are For Sale
Once upon a time, Simon the Sorcerer offered to pay for the power of God because his power looked like child’s play in comparison to the power of God in the lives of the apostles (Acts 8:18-19). Peter responded with some stern language for the magician:
May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me (Acts 8:20–24).
It’s common today to hear of false prophets offering people signs and wonders for a “seed gift” offering. When you hear of the power of God being put up for sale, run for the hills. Such a person is a charlatan and has no business speaking on behalf of God. Don’t be fooled into such monetary scams. Like hucksters who prey upon the elderly with phone scams, such false prophets prey upon God’s people by using God’s name and they seek to lead even God’s elect astray (Matt. 24:24).
Beware When Signs and Wonders Are Made Ordinary Rather Than Extraordinary
In Jesus’ day, people were coming from all around Galilee to see the miracles of Jesus. They were extraordinary. The same thing was true of the apostles. The miracles that were associated with the apostles were connected to Jesus and they were not widespread and common. In today’s confused religious culture—the signs and wonders have become ordinary rather than extraordinary. Almost everyone who appears on religious television proclaims himself or herself to be a prophet or prophetess of God. We must pause and ask ourselves why do we see more signs and wonders in our day today than we did at the close of the biblical canon and the spread of God’s church?
According to the Word of Faith teachings—there is such power in the words we use—if we simply speak God’s Word and use certain religious vocabulary it will cause miracles to happen instantly. Why is this formula not used in the days of the early church? With such a common formula of merely speaking God’s Word and commanding things to happen—wouldn’t the extraordinary miracles associated with the office of an apostle become normative as they are now performed by the average person who professes the name of Jesus? Wouldn’t that render a miracle something other than miraculous?
Beware When Signs and Wonders Cause People to Miss God
The very purpose of signs and wonders in the days of the early church was to point people to God. It was to put on display the lightening and thunder of God’s sovereignty. However, in our present religious culture—it’s very common for people to be awestruck with the signs and miss God. The wonder and amazement is placed on something that happened rather than on God himself. This is exactly where the people were in Jesus’ day as they begged him to make the sky dance or turn colors—but they were bored with the fact that the One who spoke the universe into existence was standing in their presence clothed in human flesh. Jesus rebuked the people in his day for their craving for signs and we see those sobering words in Matthew’s Gospel:
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed (Matthew 16:1–4).
- John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 94-95.
Is the gift of prophecy given to the church in our present day? Was the gift of prophecy reserved for the apostolic era of church history? What must we say about the numerous accounts of modern-day prophecies that people continue to share. Some are formally given in a corporate worship gatherings and some happen in the break room at work. According to B.B. Warfield, the age of the miraculous gifts has passed. He writes:
The theologians of the post-Reformation era, a very clear-headed body of men, taught with great distinctness that the charismata ceased with the Apostolic age. 
Several years ago, Beth Moore told a story about how God often speaks to her in visions. According to Moore, God placed this picture in her head while she was sitting out on her back porch. She stated that it was as if she was raised up and could see the world as Jesus does. Does God continue to speak to people by giving prophecies for them to share with the church? What important questions must be considered?
Is the Gift of Modern Prophecy Compatible with Sola Scriptura?
At the heart of the Reformation was the principle of sola Scriptura. The Reformers lived and died upon the fact that the Word of God was all that was necessary to communicate the binding and necessary elements of the faith. They rejected the claims of the Roman Catholic Church’s authority and elevated the necessity of Scripture as the sole basis of truth. Anything else was a counterfeit and was rejected. This struck at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church and became a sharp sword that would be used on the battlefield of the Protestant Reformation.
Today, we have cults who knock on our doors and try to slide pamphlets and booklets over the top of sacred Scripture. In other words, if a cult group comes to your door, they will often appear to have a high regard for God’s Word, but not far into the conversation they will start to point you in the direction of some other literature written by their cult group’s organization. This is an ancient gimmick, one employed by Satan himself in the Garden of Eden as he cast shadows upon God’s Word asking Eve—”Did God really say” (Gen. 3:1)?
Within the charismatic movement, or as some choose to be labeled—the continuationist movement, the gift of prophecy is embraced as an ongoing normative gift given to the church of Jesus Christ. Does the gift of prophecy square with the teachings of sola Scriptura? As the Roman Catholic Church fought for control of God’s Word in church history, is the modern charismatic movement seeking to capture the greater stake in who actually has more of God’s revelation? In fact, you could expect that Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen would both reject any notion of sola Scriptura, but today we find many Reformed Christians who claim to be continuationists. Therefore, does a continuationist model invalidate the central principle of the Reformation?
As a cessationist, I do not find true theological consistency between the continuationist position and historic position of the Reformers. If God’s Word is to be accompanied by modern-day revelations that are communicated by modern-day prophets—sola Scriptura is replaced with a multiplicity of words from God. No longer is God’s Word sufficient because it comes in a plurality of ways—written and verbal.
Is God’s Word Authoritative and Less Authoritative?
When an ancient herald would be commissioned out into a town to deliver the message of the king, he would be received with honor and respect. In fact, when the message of the herald was delivered to the people, the message was embraced with the same authority as if the king himself had been standing there to deliver the message. When we read the Bible, we read the authoritative Word of God. The authority of God’s Word is clearly articulated by Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5. Peter picks up this same tone as he writes:
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Wayne Grudem, a gifted scholar who holds to the continuationist positions writes:
Furthermore, aside from the question of current practice or belief, I have argued extensively elsewhere that ordinary congregational prophecy in New Testament churches did not have the authority of Scripture. It was not spoken in words that were the very words of God, but rather in merely human words. And because it has this lesser authority, there is no reason to think that it will not continue in the church until Christ returns. It does not threaten or compete with Scripture in authority but is subject to Scripture, as well as to the mature judgment of the congregation. 
When we read the Bible, are we led to believe that what Paul said to the church at Corinth regarding church discipline is less authoritative than what Jesus said in Matthew 18? Is what Paul said about justification by faith alone in Christ alone in Ephesians less authoritative than what James said about faith and works? The point is clear—all of God’s Word is authoritative. Therefore, the position that suggests that verbal prophecies are less binding than what we find in Scripture seems to contain logical and theological fallacies. Why would God communicate lesser authoritative words to modern prophets than He did to ancient prophets?
Tom Schreiner provides a helpful consideration as he writes:
The burden of proof is on those who say prophecy in the NT is of a different nature than prophecy in the OT. Prophets in the OT were only considered prophets of God if they were infallible (Deut. 18:15-22), and the same is almost certainly true in the NT. 
It seems abundantly clear that God’s Word is the final and sure authoritative revelation given to us by the Holy Spirit. It can be validated, trusted, followed, and remains our sole source of divine truth.
Is God’s Word Inerrant and Errant?
In 2011, the entire world was put on notice that the world was coming to an abrupt end. At least, that was the message from Harold Camping and his dedicated followers—many of whom sold their homes and spent their “final days” warning the world. In 2007, Pat Robertson delivered a message of doom by saying, “The Lord didn’t say nuclear but I do believe it will be something like that, that it will be a mass-killing, possibly millions of people, major cities injured. There will be some very serious terrorist attacks. The evil people will come after this country and there’s a possibility not a possibility, a definite certainty that chaos is going to rule.” Still today, a man named Horacio Villegas is predicting the end of the world, by a nuclear event, will take place on May 13th, 2017.
Do any of these men speak for God? How do we know if a self-proclaimed prophet is speaking for God? The verification is based on the outcome of their prophecy. In fact, that is the only basis of verification. While some people within the charismatic movement dismiss people as Harold Camping and other radicals as false prophets, some people still hold to the idea that true modern prophets can make errant prophecies by accident. All prophets are known by their fruit. Therefore, the idea of an errant prophet who actually speaks for God is beyond the realm of what it means to be a true prophet of God.
Long before the Word of God was complete, God instituted a means to protect His Word from corruption. According to Deuteronomy 18:20-22, if anyone came speaking for God and did not speak the truth, they were to be executed. In short, the death penalty was the punishment for all false prophets. This was God’s way of protecting His Word. According to Ezekiel 12:25, everything the LORD speaks actually comes to pass.
In the New Testament, we don’t have a single place where a prophet erred. Some accuse Agabus of error, but if you read Paul’s explanation of his arrest in Acts 28:17, you will see that he never accused Agabus of any error whatsoever. In fact, it seems that he was connecting the dots to what had been prophesied by Agabus. All throughout the New Testament, the message of the prophets was to be received as truth. The idea of an errant prophet delivering an errant word doesn’t seem to align itself with the overall picture of God’s inerrant Word (Ez. 12:25; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:5).
As we consider the Word of God and the work of the prophets, it’s apparent that their work has been completed and their office is no longer a gift to the church. Since the completed canon is now on hand and properly assembled—all such prophetic statements are no longer necessary.
While I have friends who hold to the continuationist position, I simply cannot validate the position with Scripture. I recognize that not everyone who holds to the position of a continuationist model should be immediately dismissed as a follower of Benny Hinn as well. Anything that challenges the sufficiency of Scripture by adding to it or providing additional information is, in my opinion, a dangerous thing. A robust cessationist position regarding prophecy is not to diminish the work and value of the Holy Spirit. Remember, John Calvin was known as “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.”
- Benjamin B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918), 6.
- Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1039–1040.
- Thomas Schreiner, “Why I Am a Cessationist” (Published online: The Gospel Coalition, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-am-a-cessationist), [accessed: 4-25-17].
Does God Perform Miraculous Healing Today?
A few weeks ago, my daughter had to be hospitalized for a severe case of dehydration after coming down with the common stomach bug. It was a rare case of extreme dehydration that came on fairly quickly. As I stayed home on Saturday evening with the other three children, my wife took our youngest daughter Kalli to the hospital. We expected her to receive fluids and then be released. However, her case of dehydration was so bad, her blood work revealed some problems that had to be addressed quickly – by specialists. What I didn’t know was that she would spend three days in the hospital in recovery.
During this time at home, I had sent texts to my close friends, posted privately to our church family, and finally I posted an update and prayer request on Facebook to a broader audience. Later that evening, I received an e-mail through Facebook. Part of that e-mail reads:
I’m offended with you. Not long ago you publicly blasted a church for having a healing service. But now you are asking for prayer??? What is the prayer for? Obviously not healing because that would mean you do believe in miraculous healings.
To be fair, this person went on to explain that the purpose of the e-mail was not to slam me or ridicule me. The individual simply wanted an explanation. I would say, it’s a fair request since I had openly criticized the healing services in our community over the last year.
To be clear, I believe in miracles. God is big and sovereign and has the power to heal anyone, anytime, as He chooses. I do think it should be stated that the false claims of fake healers from Christian charlatans should be called out for what they are – aberrant and offensive frauds.
God’s Sovereignty in Miraculous Healing
God has consistently provided verifiable evidence that He has power over disease. He has put His power on display in the ministry and work of His Son – Jesus Christ. Not only did God prove to have power over disease, but He likewise demonstrated His power over death by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
As the church is established by Jesus, He made a very specific promise to Peter and the disciples regarding His church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” As Jesus established the church, the gates of hell would literally come against it. Although Jesus validated His ministry and His claim of deity through miracles, wonders, and signs, they still nailed Him to the cross to get rid of Him. They wouldn’t accept His gospel, but they couldn’t explain His power, so they killed Him.
That clearly didn’t work, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day. Out of all of Jesus’ miracles and signs, the resurrection on the third day was the authentication of Christianity that could never be explained away. Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to hundreds of people over a 40 day period. As He prepared to ascend to the Father, He prepared His followers to receive the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.
The skepticism and open rejection of the church by the religious establishment would have been overwhelming for a group of sketchy Jesus followers had it not been for the miracles, wonders, and signs that accompanied their ministry. The early disciples experienced great power from God in order to validate the authenticity of the church. From speaking in tongues (other languages) at Pentecost, to various other signs and wonders, the early church and the message of the gospel was being established by these signs. After the lame man was healed and could walk, the entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. The Sanhedrin held council after arresting Peter and John for the miracle. As they talked to one another privately and they could not escape the power of the miracle.
Acts 4:16 – 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.
As the church continued to grow, the mounting pressures continued to push back against the followers of Christ. God performed miracles through them to show the world that His church is genuine and the message of the gospel must be heard. The purpose of the miracles was not to make the disciples into superheroes. It was to validate the gospel and the church of Jesus Christ.
Miraculous Healing or Strange Fire?
Are today’s miracles genuine or counterfeit? Are the tongues in today’s Charismatic movement real or counterfeit? We should test the spirits to see if what is being claimed is of God – or strange fire (1 John 4:1). God does not take lightly false worship, and we recall what happened with Nadab and Abihu as they were consumed for offering up to God strange fire upon the alter before the Tabernacle (see Leviticus 10). They were consumed in a fire of God’s judgment.
Does God still perform miracles today? Yes, without a doubt He does. Does God still give miraculous gifts to His church as a normative manner of validating the truth claims of the gospel and the authenticity of the church? We must consider several important facts as we evaluate this question.
- We know that the apostles were given as gifts to the church in the beginning to establish the early church and organize it for growth. The apostles are now dead and they are in the presence of God rather than the presence of God’s church. Therefore, we can say assuredly that the gift of the apostle was a temporary gift for a season in church history.
- Speaking in tongues was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and as the early Jesus followers spoke in tongues, the text of Acts 2 reveals that they were other known languages. The gibberish that is often called tongues by the modern Charismatic movement does not align itself with the power of the Holy Spirit and the tongues of Acts 2. Linguistically, the modern tongues movement does not line up with Scripture.
- By the closing of the New Testament, the miraculous gifts are starting to fade away. As the apostles were dying, the miraculous gifts that were given by God to validate His church and His gospel message were likewise fading off of the scene with the apostles. By the time the close of the New Testament is complete, the miraculous gifts are not prevalent among the church throughout church history.
- Consider the need for the gift of prophecy. To have a divine Word from God during the Old Testament was necessary because the full and completed Word of God was not in place. This gift continues into the New Testament age as the church was being validated and established, but once the canon of Scripture was closed by God, there would no longer be any need for a divine Word from God to be given. God’s Word is sufficient. Therefore, modern prophecy ministries deny the validity and sufficiency of God’s Word.
- The modern faith healers that have come to us through a long line of religious charlatans dating back to the magicians who stood before Pharaoh. They are aligned with Balaam and Simon the Sorcerer rather than Peter and the apostles. Benny Hinn and others like him have been proven as false prophets. They do not have the validating power of the Holy Spirit upon them as we see in Acts and the early church.
- Can the modern miraculous gifts be mimicked, mocked, and explained away? That seems to be the case. The false prophets of our age abound through the media of television and the Internet. Many of these false teachers hold miracle crusades where they ask for those people who need to be healed to come up on the platform to be healed. However, at the front there are screeners who separate certain people from the large crowd and only a privileged group of people are granted access to the stage. In the majority of the cases, the crusades are more about money than miracles and when you contrast and compare the miraculous gifts of the early church from those that we see paraded across the television screen today, the differences are more than the similarities.
We must be committed to exposing the fraudulent practices of false faith healers. Their work is not for God. Their message is based on health, wealth, and prosperity rather than the true gospel of Jesus Christ. In Atlanta, where I live and minister, the entire city is swimming with these prosperity preaching false faith healers.
Can miracles be performed today? Is there any evidence that miraculous healing takes place today? I think the answer to both of those questions is in the affirmative. However, I do not believe that God is gifting His church with a normative practice of miraculous gifts. The age of the prophets has passed from us. The age of the apostles has faded off into the sunset. The canon of Scripture is closed. The Word of God is completely sufficient. God is sovereign and He does still perform miracles and that’s why we pray! We trust God to do the extraordinary. The focus of our prayers is upon His power. Rather than focusing on a prayer room, a crusade, or a certain group of gifted people in the local church, the entire church comes together to pray to God who can perform a miracle for His glory.
I’ve actually heard preachers claim that they blow the Holy Spirit upon people in the local mall as they walk around shopping with their family. Those same preachers hold miracle crusades and devote themselves to a ministry of miracles, wonders, and signs. Anyone who claims to have the power to control the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, is very confused. Miracles are real because God is real. From creation to the resurrection of Christ, we see God consistently performing miracles. One day, He will bring this present world to a final culmination that aligns with His sovereign purposes. The return of Christ will be a miracle. Until then, we can trust that our sovereign God continues to rule over all things at all times and we can call upon Him and plead for the His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As we think through these issues, we must not allow hucksters to deemphasize the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and the miracle of the new birth by peddling false miracles in the name of Jesus.
B.B. Warfield has written, “[Miraculous gifts] were not for the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confirmed them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”1
1. Counterfeit Miracles, Banner of Truth, 1918, p. 6.
2. Charismatic Chaos – John MacArthur
3. Strange Fire – John MacArthur
4. Strange Fire Conference – Grace Community Church