Mark 16:15-18 says,
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
My Pentecostal friends challenge: Why do you teach that there are no miracles for the church today? If verse 15 is still valid (“go and preach the gospel”) and if verse 16 is still valid (“believe and be baptized”) then why isn’t verse 17 still valid (“they will cast out demons, speak with new tongues,” etc)?
That’s a great question! I certainly believe the Bible. I believe in the power of God. While I suspect that most TV healers are charlatans using emotion to prey on the weak-minded, I know that’s not conclusive. I contend the Bible teaches that these miracles did accompany the first disciples, but were not meant to last during the entire church age. Here’s why:
The Bible Spells Out the Purpose of the Miracles
Miracles were never an end to themselves. Every person who was healed eventually got sick again. Some disciples didn’t receive healing (2 Tim. 4:20). The disciples’ miracles were designed to bring attention to the message they preached, to point to the power of the gospel to save the soul.
After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Heb. 2:3-4).
In Acts 8:4-8, we see this pattern:
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.
Only God can perform a legitimate miracle, breaking the laws of nature. God sent “signs and wonders” to demonstrate His approval on these messengers of a new salvation in the name of Jesus Christ (John 3:2, 20:30-31, and significantly Mark 16:20).
Since the New Testament records the miracles, and since there is no new teaching (Gal. 1:6-9, Jude 3), the purpose of the miracles has been fulfilled.
The Bible Spells Out the Means of Transmitting the Miracles
Acts 8:14-19 is the lengthiest description of how the power to perform miracles spread.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.
Now, I realize that God can bestow the ability to perform miracles upon anyone He wants (in fact, I think Acts 2:4 is one such important exception). But it would seem that the normal method of spreading gifts throughout the church was the laying on of an apostle’s hands (cf. Acts 19:6, 2 Tim. 1:6, Rom. 1:11). Philip couldn’t do it—apostles had to travel to Samaria to do it. And thus, when the Apostle John died, the normal means of transmitting the gifts of the Holy Spirit died out, too.
The Bible Spells Out the Duration of the Miracles
The two points above would be less than convincing to me, except that there is a New Testament passage which suggests that God intended the signs and wonders to be temporary.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away (1 Cor. 13:8-13).
Now, I encourage you to read the full context—this is a deeper passage than this brief bulletin will allow us to explore. The argument hinges on what “the perfect” is. I believe it refers to the New Testament. Complete knowledge of God’s will has fully replaced the bits and pieces of miraculous knowledge given through prophecy.
I hate to disparage what people think they’ve seen or felt, but I’m convinced that the New Testament teaches that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were meant for the early days of the church. God answers prayer, and God saves the soul; but I don’t believe He sends miracles right now. I think of the miraculous gifts like the scaffolding of a building—a network of catwalks and ladders to allow workmen to erect the building, but which is taken down once the building is complete. —John Guzzetta