A recent Christian History post triggered deeper conviction about the more visible displays of the Spirit in our churches. With all the current emphasis on being a “NT Church” (an overblown and theologically problematic phrase), where are the displays of the Spirit, i.e. healings, resurrections, God-honoring prophecy? Chris Armstrong notes that: “When we teach about the early church, we frequently omit the story of spiritual gifts.”  Perhaps this is one reason we do not see the visible displays as much? To be sure, the invisible work of the Spirit, manifested in faith and works, is present and a priority; however, the following statements by the Early Church Fathers cause me to pause and reflect:

1st century

Writers of the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas [two inspirational books used widely in the early church] witness so much charismatic activity they find it necessary to distinguish between true and false prophets. At about the same time, the writer of Pseudo-Barnabas suggests prophetic ministry is normative in the church.

2nd century

[Christian apologist] Justin Martyr argues that God has withdrawn the Spirit of prophecy and miracles from the Jews and has transferred it to the church as proof of her continued divine favor.

Irenaeus of Lyon describes the gifts of prophecy, discernment of spirits, and exorcism in his Gallic church, and even mentions that individuals have been raised from the dead. He warns against certain false Gnostics who fabricate spiritual gifts to win favor with the naïve.

3rd century

Origen of Alexandria says healings, exorcisms, and validating signs and wonders continue to be experienced in the church. Just as miracles and wonders added to the credibility of 1st-century apostles, so they continue to draw unbelievers into the Christian fold.”

4th century

Augustine [of Hippo], in The City of God, reports contemporary divine healings and other miracles. These he links directly to the conversion of pagans.

It wasn’t just the New Testament church that experienced these things; it was the post-apostolic church. Moreover, genuine displays of the Spirit’s power abound in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One could argue this is because they are power-encounter cultures, but that would be a hyper-rationalization, something that has contributed to the dearth of genuine Spirit displays in North America.

What do you think? Are we doing something wrong? Are we “not teaching the charismatic portions of the Early Church experience? What would happen if we did?

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