I’m a 20 year-old christian who is studying in Oxford university at the moment. While I do like my degree, although probably less than most people, there are other things that fascinate me more than early British History. I find the stories of miracles, healing, prophesy, supernatural knowledge, resurrections etc. that occur throughout the Bible fascinating. While most Christians (and many non-believers) are very familiar with the signs and wonders described throughout Jesus’ life, it is actually the stories of miracles in the early church that often catch my attention most. It is amazing to think that God used a bunch of very ordinary, young people to build his Church and along the way they witnessed God perform numerous signs and wonders that led many to faith. It makes me question how we do evangelism in this modern 21st century world and where exactly, if at all, there is a place for seeking and displaying signs and wonders?
Much of what will be written here is likely to be little more than the wandering thoughts of a young Christian student raising questions and presenting ideas to himself about what the Bible says about signs and wonders and how that affects life today. I will also hope to write stories about my own engagement with signs and wonders in an evangelistic sphere and I might suggest a few practical ideas that encourage others to engage in these questions.
The basis for writing lies both in the intrigue I have developed around this area, but also because in my understanding of scripture it seems to me, at least at the moment, that most christians (including myself) are far away from living as Jesus did in this particular area. This blog is partly a response to seeing the difference between my own life and that which is displayed to me in scripture. If God’s word encourages a certain way of life, and practice of evangelism, far be it from me to let my cultural background stop me from pursuing such a life.
The other possible purpose of this blog is very much up to God. While I would love to encourage other young people to engage with questions surrounding signs and wonders and perhaps join me in seeing where a God might lead us, I recognise my own pride in this area. In today’s world it is ‘cool’ to have christian blog/podcast with a nice, tasty following – I cannot honestly say that none of that appeals to me (though it shouldn’t). However, as I write this, only one other person knows about this, I don’t know of anyone that is going to read this and I don’t particularly plan on anyone else reading it. I may send it to a friend or two, but at the moment I don’t intend on publicising this anywhere.
I am faced with a battle between my own pride, and a sense that God wants to raise up young people who are confident and willing to see God move in power in their lives, people who are willing to embarrass themselves in order to put God on display and shake people’s world views that they might believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. I don’t claim to be bold enough to see this in my life, but scripture says that it is exactly out of our weakness that God’s power will shine through.
What’s it all about?
‘The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.‘
The Book of Acts is one of the most exciting books in the Bible. It centres around a bunch of young people who had been following Jesus for three years. The same followers who had all abandoned Jesus at his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane only weeks previously were tasked with sharing the Gospel with all nations, declaring the arrival of the kingdom of God and building the early Church. The Holy Spirit filled these young people and the subsequent transformation among these people and across this part of the Roman Empire is remarkable: Peter, who denies Jesus three times before his death, addresses a massive crowd on the day of pentecost and three thousand accept his message and are baptised; Paul, goes from the chief persecutor of Christ to chief advocate; Believers were sent by the Spirit to places and people further than they had ever travelled before and they obediently went. The early believers performed numerous signs and wonders, preached to crowds throughout Judea, Samaria and increasingly further afield.
Many non-believers in this country know a lot about the life of Jesus (whether or not they believe it actually happened is another question). They know that he supposedly performed amazing miracles, walked on water, healed lepers, opened blind eyes and deaf ears. However, the book of Acts is far less known. Your average British person probably doesn’t know that after Jesus said his followers would do ‘greater things’ (John 14:12) than him and that they actually did. As I read Acts, alongside the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, Paul’s letters, the various historical books in the Old Testament and, in general, the rest of the Bible, I wonder more and more whether, as a wider Christian population, we are missing out on God’s power. The ‘signs and wonders’ discussed in Acts 5:12 were a key factor in the spread of early Christianity. However, they featured throughout the Bible, from Moses to Elijah to Daniel in the Old Testament. Signs and wonders featured throughout Jesus’ time on Earth as he proclaimed the coming Kingdom and this continued to be the case with the early believers.
In writing this blog I offer neither originality, nor experience, nor any theological training. Much of what I am going to discuss has been discussed before. As a student in Oxford, studying in the heart of a materialist Post-Christian culture that defines much of Britain today, I have been provoked to question just how the British church and Christian students have responded to this culture. If, as Romans 12:2 says, we shouldn’t ‘conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of (our) minds’ then it begs the question what exactly is the pattern of the world we live in. In Oxford and I’m sure across many universities one of the most entrenched views is that of materialism. While on the face of it students are increasingly returning to the idea of spirituality, through practices such as yoga and meditation, or opening up to new ideas about achieving ‘inner peace’ in a chaotic world, ultimately these changes are still founded on a deep rooted belief in materialism. While someone might consider yoga to work in releasing good energy and peace, the notion that there are real spirits or demons that have an effect in this world is delusional and ridiculous. Similarly, Christianity is passed off as one treatment among many for the stresses and worries of life – ‘God is in your head and he might make you feel better inside, but he certainly can’t cause any material change, like healing a bad back or opening deaf ears.’
Like Paul in Athens, the chief evangelistic tactic that has been used among the students in this culture has been persuasive reasoning. Historical proofs for the resurrection, logical reasoning for the existence of a morally good God and responses to the hardest intellectual questions atheists can throw at Christianity all feature heavily. Essentially, the aim is to remove intellectual barriers that intellectual people have to the Gospel because the Gospel is the truth of God. I, myself, am a big advocate of this sort of persuasive evangelism and enjoy meeting tough intellectual questions head on. I’m convinced that the Gospel is the truth, not my truth or my church’s truth, but the truth and so it will stand up to logical, rigorous challenge. It may well be through the removal of intellectual barriers to the Gospel that God softens people’s hearts that they might believe.
However, I can’t help but think that this sort of evangelism, when used on its own, represents us conforming to the pattern of this world. In secular Oxford, where every battle is won by providing a stronger, more eloquent argument filled with precise and compelling evidence, have we decided to fight the enemy on his terms? The purpose of this blog is not to present a new theological statement or some new formula for evangelism, but to raise questions about the way we live, particularly from the perspective of a young person in Britain, and to think about whether we are missing the signs and wonders that early christianity, numerous revivals and many modern day countries witness so heavily.
Questions to think about/that I may have a look at:
- What is the biblical standpoint on signs and wonders? Should we pursue them today? What is the effect of non-believers seeing signs and wonders?
- Where has culture won? Where have we won?
- How can we see the power of God move more in our lives?
- How can I daily look to share the love of God through signs and wonders? Is that even possible?
- Where does my pride and arrogance fit in all this?
As I said before I am not someone with masses of experience seeing signs and wonders, nor do I have any theological training. I don’t have any answers to some of the questions above, let alone good answers. Please take anything I say with a pinch of salt, I’m prone to getting it wrong a lot. However, I thought it might provide fresh perspective to write from the eyes of someone beginning to question/learn/step out in seeing God move through signs and wonders. I have already and will probably continue to embarrass myself a lot as I step out in faith, but hopefully it will be for the glory of God, and in loving others.