One of the creepier aspects of both Romanist and Pentecostalist piety is their virtually indistinguishable credulity about alleged “miracles.” I use the pejorative adjective intentionally because, at bottom, despite the formal differences between them, both are peddling magic and superstition and that’s creepy.
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801–90) is about to be “beatified.” (HT: Beggars All) but some questions have arisen about the truthfulness of the claims made by a Romanist deacon that he prayed to JHCN and that the latter heard his prayer and healed him miraculously. The late Roman high priest (pontifex maximus) is on the fast track for beatification and canonization but he too has hit a speed bump.
In Romanist piety “beatification” is part of the process of canonization whereby a dead Christian is recognized as a true object of veneration. The process requires that it be proved that this dead Christian heard and answered a prayer and performed a miracle. Hence the requirement for credulity in both senses of the word. The theological problems with such claims are not insignificant. First, one has to agree that finite, dead, humans, can, because they are glorified, hear prayers. This assumes a sort of omnipresence and omniscience that neither Scripture nor Christian theology confers upon them. Second, it assumes that humans, because they are glorified and particularly pious, are able to do that which only God can do: interrupt what we understand as the ordinary providence of God.
In medieval theology credulitas referred to assent to and trust in the magisterial teaching of the church. In modern usage “credulity” denotes a “disposition to believe on weak or insufficient grounds” (Oxford English Dictionary). The Reformation attacked this confidence in conciliar and papal dogmas as misplaced. Only the triune God and his self-disclosure in Scripture is worthy of implicit faith and unquestioned (not to say unreasoning) confidence. Hence, against the medieval and the Tridentine (Romanist) doctrine of credulity and fides implicita the Protestants asserted and taught the doctrine of sola scriptura, that only Scripture is God’s Word, that only Scripture deserves the sort of authority Rome confers upon the church. Scripture forms the church; the church does not form the Scripture.
Reading about the controversies over whether JHCN and JPII heard and answered prayer and are thus qualified, according to Rome, for beatification, I was struck by how similar the language and rhetoric of the Romanist is to that of Benny Hinn and his ilk. Neither the Romanist nor the neo-Pentecostalist (neo-Montantist!) confesses the sole, unique authority of the Word of God. Neither the Romanist nor the neo-Pentecostalist recognizes the unique nature of the canonical revelation or of the canonical apostolic and prophetic offices. The piety of the Romanist and the neo-Pentecostalist depends to a considerable degree upon their claims of ongoing apostolic authority and demonstrations of power (e.g., “signs and wonders”). Neither of them is satisfied with the finished work of Christ. Neither of them understands the sufficiency of Christ, how that all of redemptive history pointed to and was fulfilled by Christ. Each, in his own tawdry way, wants us to think that what he claims happens today is substantially identical to what happened in canonical redemptive history. If Paul survived stoning and serpents, the neo-Pentecostalist has done the same and more! If the apostles put people to death and raised them from the grave, the neo-Pentecostalist has done the same. Of course both Rome and neo-Pentecostalism really specialize in claims of healing. That’s where the discussion usually focuses.
Since the rise of Wayne Grudem’s more sophisticated revision of neo-Pentecostalism (attempting to affirm a predestinarian version of neo-Pentecostalism and to synthesize it with the Reformed doctrine of canonicity) it is considered by some to be bad form to invoke Warfield but I must. We should all go back and read his marvelous de-bunking of the neo-Pentecostal and Romanist nonsense: Counterfeit Miracles. The question has never been whether our sovereign triune God can perform the canonical signs and wonders. After all, he did it the first time! The questions are whether Scripture promises that he will and whether we can honestly say that he has done and is doing now. The exegetical case for ongoing signs and wonders is precarious at best. As to empirical evidence, Warfield was right. It usually comes down either to lowering the standards of what happened in the apostolic (or more broadly) the canonical period or in elevating what is alleged to have happened in our time. Thus, the biblical glossolalia is re-defined and identified with a universal religious phenomenon. Alleged occurrences of “healing” and other modern signs and wonders become as hard to verify as the Romanist claims that the JHCN or JPII performed a miracle.
I am not saying that God is absent from the universe or that he is not active constantly and wonderfully. Not at all. The Biblical doctrine of providence says that God exercises the same power manifested in creation to uphold and govern and sustain and work through his creation today. He has promised to work wonders through the preaching of the holy gospel to bring his elect to faith and to sustain and confirm that faith through the use of the holy sacraments. I am not saying that God never wonderfully and unexpectedly heals anyone. I’m sure he does but I am as unsure that he has done so either through the intercession of dead cardinals and popes as I am that he does so through the imprecations and invocations of jet-setting, white-suited charlatans.
It is striking how, on examination, the cardinal, the pope, and the pentecostalist all begin to look the same but ironically none of them sees himself in the other.
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