Subscribe via RSS Feed

Proclaiming the Gospel with Miraculous Gifts in the Postbiblical Early Church

Cessationists also have chosen to overlook the record of both Roman Catholic and Eastern Christian traditions. Any honest inquiry into the history of spirituality in both Roman and Eastern traditions leads the scholar to conclude that the Holy Spirit invested the post-Apostolic Church with the same gifts and charismatic vitality experienced during the first century.3

Protestant cessationists have been influenced by the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, which has led many to deny the validity of anything in Christian history which falls outside accepted categories of rationality. This has resulted in a “cleaning up” of religious history, purging it of any taint of “enthusiasm” or nonrational behavior and all reports of the supernatural. The result has been what I call a “demythologizing” of the saints—an attempt to deny the many stories in the Christian tradition which are filled with charismatic giftings, miracles, signs and wonders.

Voices of cessationism still are with us.

In the twentieth century, Pentecostals have unwittingly added to the confusion by teaching that the Holy Spirit was somehow “deistically absent” in the eighteen hundred years between A.D. 100 and 1900, and that the second coming of the Holy Spirit occurred among them at the very beginning of the current century. This fit into their understanding of Joel’s prophecy of a former and a latter rain. In typical restorationist fashion, Pentecostals showed little appreciation for earlier waves of Christian renewal. The result of all this is that we have missed an entire chapter in the history of Christianity—namely, the story of post-apostolic Christians witnessing with power to the unconverted, with their proclamation accented and given credibility by confirming supernatural events.


Spirit-Empowered Ministry in the Post-Apostolic Church

It is quite clear that the Holy Spirit’s activity in the Christian Church did not change dramatically after AD 100. As with any other wave of renewal, the time immediately following that of the apostles saw a modest waning of charismatic vitality. But prophets continued to function openly in the Church in the second century, and in fringe groups, such as the Montanists, from that time onwards.

There has been an attempt to deny the many stories in the Christian tradition which are filled with charismatic giftings, miracles, signs and wonders.

There was no cessation of miracles or signs and wonders in this period either, despite occasional claims to the contrary by a few Church Fathers, including Origen.4 Both the Roman church and Eastern churches have an entire genre of literature known as hagiography, or lives of the saints, which give innumerable examples of the dynamic evangelistic outreach of individuals empowered by the divine Spirit. To be sure, we must treat these accounts with a critical, even skeptical eye, given the tendency of the period not to be critical. The fact remains, however, that miracles, signs and wonders were an expected part of Christian life—at least for the spiritually elite who reached beyond their contemporaries in holy living and devotion to God. To insist that none of these accounts are credible, while at the same assuming that similar stories from the first century Church given in Scripture are believable, suggests that we are imposing our own presuppositions on the data.

Pin It
Page 2 of 912345...Last »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Church History, Summer 2008

About the Author: Stanley M. Burgess received a BA and MA from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has taught history for 57 years and was Distinguished Professor of Christian History, Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia (2004–2011). He has written numerous scholarly articles on church history and the history of Christianity as well as several books, including The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity (Hendrickson), The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (Hendrickson), and The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Hendrickson), a documentary history of the Christian Peoples of the Spirit: A Documentary History of Pentecostal Spirituality from the Early Church to the Present (New York University Press, 2011), and was co-editor of the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (Oxford, 2012).

  • Connect with

    Subscribe via Twitter Followers   Subscribe via Facebook Fans
  • Recent Comments

  • Featured Authors

    Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degree...

    Jelle Creemers: Theological Dialogue with Classical Pentecostals

    Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), is the president-dean of Jakes Divinity School and associate pasto...

    Invitation: Stories about transformation

    Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books<...

    Studies in Acts

    Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but h...

    Will I Still Be Me After Death?