I’ve been reading through the Bible four chapters at a time since July 1. Although I am no longer going to attempt to write about it every day, I have been wading into Exodus the last few days, and it has stirred up some thoughts about the church and the world that I wanted to put out there for response and reactions.
In the confrontation with Pharaoh and the ten plagues, the text reports multiple times that Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate the “wonders” of God, which played some role in Pharaoh’s hard heartedness. He saw his people doing the same tricks as Moses and Aaron, and it took the fear of God out of him.
I am an English major, and so unlike John Wesley I often move quickly to allegorical or metaphorical readings of Scripture. The “plain reading” as Wesley would call it is not nearly as interesting. So, for instance, I am not really interested in whether Egyptians magicians could actually turn water into blood the way God did.
But I am alert to ways the stories serve as metaphors for our condition and spiritual life.
And so I wonder if part of the challenge the church encounters this day is that Pharaoh’s magicians are so good at replicating so many of the wonders of God. Is this, in part, why Jesus downplayed the important of signs and wonders in his ministry? Wonders could be explained away. Some of them could be duplicated. With time and critical scholarship they could be discounted. The magicians are very crafty when it comes to debunking the miracles of God.
And so, after the apostolic age, the power of God was not seen nearly so much in miracles (although I am inclined to agree with John Wesley that every new birth of a dead soul is a miracle), but in humble witness and testimony of believers one to another. It was not by spectacle that the church spread, but by something more ordinary.
Of course, the urge to spectacle never departs the church. We always have those who want to be like Moses and raise our staff to summon frogs and flies and hail.
But these are exceptions, and perhaps even aberrations. When the church relies too much on spectacle, it may be a sign of weakness or a loss of Christ. It is may be a sign of seeking to go back to Egypt.
These thoughts of mine are not well worked out. They began in margin notes as I have been reading Exodus the last few days. They likely say as much about my mood and mind as they do about Exodus, so, I share them with the warning that they may be little more than that.