Ordinary Miracles

Protestant scholastic theology distinguished between several forms of God’s calling, referring to how God calls people to salvation in himself. One of the basic distinctions is between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ calling. God ordinarily calls people to himself through the preaching of the Word; less often, extraordinarily, God will call people to himself by other means. The Leiden theologians thought the way God calls us ‘extraordinarily’ is “unknown to us”, a mysterious inner calling of God’s Spirit (Synopsis purioris theologiae [1642], disp. 30.1.33, p. 368). The Lutheran theologian Quenstedt has other suggestions:

Calling is either ordinary or extraordinary; it is the ordinary which acts by means set up by God, that is, the external and visible ministry of the Word. It is extraordinary and special when someone, not by the ordinary ministry of the Word, but by miracles, ecstasies and other uncommon means, is called to the light of the gospel. (Theologia didactico-polemica [Leipzig, 1702], 3.5.1.5 nota 2, p. 462).

As examples, he gives the Magi called by the star from the east to the newborn Jesus and the miracles shown to the people of Tyre and Sidon during Jesus’ ministry. It is these miracles, I want to argue, that belong not to God’s extraordinary and “most rare” calling (Theologia didactico-polemica, p. 462), but rather to his ordinary means of calling people to believe in him.

In the ministry of Christ, miracles regularly accompanied his teaching (Mt. 4:23, 9:35; Mk. 1:21-28; Jn. 2:23). When he commissioned his disciples to continue his teaching, Christ promised the same ‘accompanying’ of the Word by miraculous signs (Mt. 10:7-8; cf. Mk. 16:20). And this is what we see in the early history of the Church (Acts 3:6-26; 5:12-16, 13:5-12, etc.).

It seems, then, that there are two ordinary and accompanying means of God’s calling: preaching and miracles. The miracles confirm the teaching (e.g. Acts 13) and the teaching explains the miracles (e.g. Acts 3). These are both “means set up by God” (Quenstedt) to draw people to himself and show them where they ought to look for their salvation.

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