Most Pentecostals and Charismatics derive their understanding of life in the Holy Spirit from Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and other Biblical texts. Romans 8 and Galatians 5:22-23 are also thrown in for those with a strong sense of sanctification. There is still a very strong “Bible” emphasis in these churches. What I mean to say is that Christian books or other literature on the Christian life are marginalized, and as a result, Charismatics are left to the Evangelical tradition to interpret Scripture and life for them. This can have devastating results, and sometimes lead to cessationism and unbelief. Cessationism is the theological perspective held by conservative Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and others that are committed to the Sola Scriptura philosophy–that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased to exist after the death of the apostle John around A.D. 100. Although this cessationist philosophy completely contradicts all of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church history–especially in what are called “the lives of the saints,” the cessationist does not take the miracle stories in these saints’ lives seriously. Why? (1) Because they’re not in the Bible. (2) Because a lot of them received counterfeit visions of the Virgin Mary. (3) Some of them held heretical Gnostic views. (4) Many of them prayed to dead saints that came before them. (5) In light of all of these things–in the cessationist’s mind, any miracles attributed to these Christian saints should be considered make-believe “legends” or occult manifestations of demonic power. But of course NOT of the Holy Spirit.
Are they so sure? Do these cessationists really know what they are saying and teaching? Are they not guilty of the unpardonable sin of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit?” (Matt. 12:31). I think so, especially if they do this knowingly; however, if they are sincerely deceived, then I’ll let God judge whether or not they’ve blasphemed His Spirit. But men like this would rather put their faith in the Bible, neverminding the Holy Spirit AS AN EXPERIENCE OF GOD. The Holy Spirit is only an idea to them–a doctrine of the Trinity, and nothing more; not a Spirit of experience, presence, and power.
I think it is high time that Charismatics reclaim their heritage that has been passed down to them from the mystic saints of the church. “Bible-only” thinking doesn’t really hold very much water when it comes to the Charismatic life. Yes, many of the saints had counterfeit visions of the Virgin Mary; and they lacked in discernment in this area. But how many counterfeit visions have you had lately, oh Charismatic Christian? ARE YOU PERFECT?! Have you always been flawless in your discernment of spirits and understanding of dreams and visions? I doubt it! And that’s my point. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox saints were not perfect prophets. There is no such thing. I dare say that the Biblical prophets were not perfect either! (Although cessationists seem to think that way). So, visions of “Virgin Marys” notwithstanding–I think it is more than reasonable to conclude that if you take a real close look at the holy visions and miracles of these saints–if you are honest with yourself–you will have to conclude that the Holy Spirit was active in AT LEAST SOME of the revelations and miracles of the saints.
I want to refer you to a few texts. (1) Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend (1260) – This is a two volume collection of miracle stories from various Catholic saints; many of which are from the 3rd and 4th centuries. As you read, note the frequent references to prayer, contemplation, dreams, visions, voices, and healing anointings from the tombs of saints. (2) Butler’s Lives of the Saints (1759) – The concise edition by Michael Walsh is a good starting place. Written during the rationalistic Enlightenment era, Alban Butler desupernaturalized a lot of the saints’ stories, and leaned more towards an emphasis on the holy virtues that they exemplified. Some revelations and miracles were retained, but many were explained away as “legends.” (3) Varlaam Novakshonoff’s God’s Fools: The Lives of the Holy “Fools for Christ” (1973) – This is a short illustrated collection of major prophets and ascetics in Eastern Orthodox church history. Available from light-n-life.com (4) Lazar Puhalo’s Lives of Saints for Young People (1977) – Like God’s Fools, only much longer, and available from the same website. Both are like The Golden Legend–full of revelations, miracles, and insights into meditation and prophetic prayer.
If you want to go really hardcore and in-depth into researching the saints, then there are some other steps you can take. First, I would recommend starting light and working your way into the heavier stuff. In the lives of the saints, the historical evidence for miraculous gifts is absolutely overwhelming. So, start with concise works like The Golden Legend, Butler’s Lives, and God’s Fools, and mark which saintly stories you find the most inspiration from. For example, Antony, Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, etc. Second, make a chronological list of your favorite saints according to their date of death–this will give you a stronger sense of the continuing work of the miraculous gifts throughout church history. Third, do in-depth research into the lives of your favorite saints. This can be done in various ways. One way is to study Butler’s Lives of the Saints: Complete Edition (4 vols.) edited by Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater; and Butler’s Lives of the Saints: New Full Edition (12 vols.) by Liturgical Press. On the Eastern Orthodox side, you have at your disposal again with that website above, the following sources: Demetrius of Rostov’s The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints (12 vols.); and The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (12 vols.).
In addition to all of these volumes–there is even more biographical information about Christian saints and prophets! The above are collections of what the editors of these volumes considered to be “highlights” in the lives of certain saints. Then these highlighted, concise lives were compiled into these saintly encyclopedias. But the sources from which each of these individual lives were derived for these encyclopedias were the biographies of saints. In the classical Greco-Roman fashion, the biographies of saints were named things like Vita Antonii or The Life of Antony. From there on out, biographies of saints carried these sorts of titles: Life and Miracles of St. Benedict by Gregory the Great, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by Bonaventure, The Life of the Holy Hildegard, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus (Autobiography) by St. Teresa of Avila. This is the way to gain even greater knowledge into the prayer lives and spiritual experiences of these mystical and Charismatic saints. Also, sometimes, there are scholarly works that have attempted to recover fragmentary evidence on the lives of certain saints, and form it into a cohesive story: for example, James Todd’s St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland: A Memior of His Life and Mission.
So, what’s the point? I think Charismatic Christians–especially those in the Third Wave movement that are zealous to discover the secrets of growing in the miraculous gifts–need to study the lives of the saints. A lot of the Catholic saints were not Charismatic, mystical, or prophetic. They were only recognized for starting charities, monastic orders, and for living by good virtues. But the point I’m trying to make is that if you search for the Charismatic and mystic saints of the church, then you will find great insights into their prayer lives. Their methods of prayer and spiritual disciplines could change your life and experience of God drastically. There are simply some things in the Bible about the spiritual life that many Evangelicals are unable to see, because of their philosophical tradition of un-supernatural theology. But in the lives of the saints, your eyes can be opened to certain secrets in the Scriptures, and you will learn certain meditative and contemplative practices that can radically alter your consciousness of the Holy Spirit. Dreams, visions, and miracles will result if you follow the examples of the mystic saints of the church. Discernment is something that you must practice in light your Bible knowledge, but if you have no experiences for which to discern, you won’t necessarily be growing in discernment either. So, read the lives of the saints. Follow their examples. Experience what they experienced. And discern your experiences based on what you know of God’s Word. I’m not telling you to pray to saints or seek visions of “Mary.” I’m saying–observe their lives, see how they prayed, see how they experienced God. Go and do likewise!