The example of Stephen in Acts is strong testimony that supernatural living is Jesus’ intention for all His disciples

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Steve Newman's picture

Here's how the logic seems to go to the author:

a. Christ did the supernatural through dependence on the Spirit;

b. Stephen did the  supernatural through dependence on the Spirit;

c. Therefore, we all ought to do the supernatural through dependence on the Spirit.

Anybody see an issue there? I'm preaching on the life of Stephen this Sunday. I might use the parallels between Stephen and Christ. That's a scriptural parallel worth noting. Am I going to tell the congregation that they should be doing mighty signs and wonders? I don't think so.

Stephen Enjaian's picture

You stated the logic of my post well. 

I hope that you do not tell your congregation that they should go out and try to do mighty signs and wonders. As I wrote, Acts is not a set of dance steps to imitate. Treating it that way is one of the mistakes that our Charismatic friends make. Neither should we go the way of thinking that God is seen only in what we understand to be supernatural phenomenon. Jesus taught us that even a sparrow cannot fail to the ground without our Father's notice.

There is without question an authenticating purpose in the miracles recorded in Acts and discussed through the New Testament. But I don't think that Scripture leads us to stop there. Consider the implications of rejecting the idea that Jesus' life and works should not be continuing through us by the Spirit's power and will. One implication is that the spiritual gifts would be merely natural talents or personality traits, which is the way most Christians treat them, in practice. The alternative, which I accept, is that the gifts are expressions of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:7), and therefore supernatural. In other words, when the gifts are exercised, we should think, "That person couldn't have done/known that by natural ability." That should be true whether a person shows mercy, teaches, heals, shares a word of knowledge, works a miracle, and so on.  

I don't know how else to make sense of Jesus' statements in John 14:12 and following. It seems that they way we usually interpret Him leaves us to conclude that following Him is really just a matter of imitating the ethical lifestyle of a long dead historical figure. Consider also Paul's astonishing statement in Galatians 3:5, "So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?"

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts or others', to this. Feel free to show me where I might be veering off course. 

Steve Newman's picture

I agree with your post in the main. I am a "cessationist" in the point of saying that sign gifts and revelatory gifts have ceased, and that the non-sign, non-revelatory gifts operate outside of natural human ability today. You raise questions about the "works" we can do today by faith. What is the greatest work? It is the work of salvation in Luke 10:20.  Do we see the work of salvation for the miraculous supernatural work that it is? That would be a good place to start.

SEnjaian wrote:

You stated the logic of my post well. 

I hope that you do not tell your congregation that they should go out and try to do mighty signs and wonders. As I wrote, Acts is not a set of dance steps to imitate. Treating it that way is one of the mistakes that our Charismatic friends make. Neither should we go the way of thinking that God is seen only in what we understand to be supernatural phenomenon. Jesus taught us that even a sparrow cannot fail to the ground without our Father's notice.

There is without question an authenticating purpose in the miracles recorded in Acts and discussed through the New Testament. But I don't think that Scripture leads us to stop there. Consider the implications of rejecting the idea that Jesus' life and works should not be continuing through us by the Spirit's power and will. One implication is that the spiritual gifts would be merely natural talents or personality traits, which is the way most Christians treat them, in practice. The alternative, which I accept, is that the gifts are expressions of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:7), and therefore supernatural. In other words, when the gifts are exercised, we should think, "That person couldn't have done/known that by natural ability." That should be true whether a person shows mercy, teaches, heals, shares a word of knowledge, works a miracle, and so on.  

I don't know how else to make sense of Jesus' statements in John 14:12 and following. It seems that they way we usually interpret Him leaves us to conclude that following Him is really just a matter of imitating the ethical lifestyle of a long dead historical figure. Consider also Paul's astonishing statement in Galatians 3:5, "So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?"

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts or others', to this. Feel free to show me where I might be veering off course. 

Steve Newman's picture

The logic is oversimplified. I believe God worked especially in this time to protect His servants with the miraculous. They were protected by the hoi polloi due to the signs and wonders. However, after the death of Stephen, the focus shifts away from Jerusalem in a big way. The church in Jerusalem endured great hardship from there forward.

Stephen Enjaian's picture

Steve,

I'll respond to your last two comments together.

To your point that salvation is a supernatural work of God: while certainly true, I don't think that is what Jesus is talking about in John 14:12. First, that interpretation does not explain what "greater works" might be. Jesus led to faith in Himself and personally discipled at least 120. Must we exceed that?

Second, and more importantly, to equate Jesus' statement with only bringing others to faith does not make sense of 14:11, where Jesus says, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves." Jesus here invites His disciples to accept His miraculous works as evidence that He is in union with the Father. He goes on to explain that His intention is that they (and we), will be brought into union with Him and the Father (vs. 20). In chapter 15, He explains that evidence of our union with Him will be that we bear much fruit, i.e., our works (15:7-8). So, looking at the entire flow, Jesus seems to be saying just as His supernatural works are evidence that He is in union with the Father, so our supernatural works will be evidence that we are in union with the Son.

Yes, there was a shift from the Jerusalem church after Stephen, and they did have a tough time of it. But even after that, Acts 11:27-30 records an instance of a prophetically gifted person exercising his gift to build up the churches.

I now question the appellation of "revelatory" and "sign" as being the primary purposes of the spiritual gifts. Scripture teaches that the gifts are for "common good" (I Co. 12:7), and "the building up of body" (Eph. 4:12). So I don't understand why certain gifts would continue to be needed and others not. The so-called sign and revelatory gifts were common and normal throughout the churches, as indicated by Gal. 3:5, I Thes. 5:20-21 and other references. When Paul corrected the misuse of gifts at Corinth (I Cor. 12-14), he treated all the gifts as normal and essential for the health of the church body. If the sign and revelatory gifts have ceased, I don't know why Paul would do that, and at such length, if those gifts have ceased.

I am not saying that we should be chasing after signs and wonders to prove something, or that we are missing something in church so we need to jazz things up with some flashy miracles. The idea here is not to copy everything Stephen or anyone else did. But Jesus lived a supernatural life. That is the kind of life He invites us into. He has no other kind to offer us. 

BOnken's picture

What a great and helpful conversation. Thanks to Stephen and Steve for getting the discussion going. 

I find myself siding wtih Stephen E. There does seem to be something about what Jesus did that carried over into what Stephen did in Acts that would seem to warrant some kind of carry over into the lives of disciples. After all, isn't a disciple someone who learns from and follows (i.e., patterns his or her life after) Jesus? 

Not attempting to reduce it to a "formula," I do see a pattern in Scripture: 

Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirit in supernatural ways (see, e.g., John 3:2; Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:16–21; Acts 10:38).

Jesus sent the twelve out to minister to others like He Himself did--in the power of the Spirit in supernatural ways (Luke 9:1–6).

Jesus sent the seventy out to minister to others like He Himself did--in the power of the Spirit in supernatural ways (Luke 10:1–17).

Jesus told His disciples to teach others to do everything He had taught them to do, with no exception clause about supernatural ministry (Matthew 28:18–20).

Jesus seemed to anticipate that those who were His disciples would minister in the power of the Spirit in supernatural ways (Mark 16:15–20). 

And then we see disciples (not just apostles, and certainly not just those who provided "revelation") ministering like Jesus in the power of the Spirit in supernatural ways (see, e.g., Acts 3:1–10; 6:8; 8:4–8; 9:17–18; 14:3). 

It would seem that the discipleship "process" worked. Disciples were actually living and carrying out ministry like Jesus, the One they sought to follow. 

I guess one question would be: Why do we not disciple others into the kind of life that Jesus discipled His followers into--the kind of life He told them to replicate in the disciples that came after them?