Do "continuationists" (who believe that the signs and wonders of Acts 2 never ceased) explain the apparent 1900 year hiatus as divine sovereignty dispensing early rain then and latter rain now or as 1900 years of a lack of faith and/or understanding?
I'm a Continualist. Continualism is the just the assumption that the supernatural gifts never disappeared from the Church in the way that Cessionists describe (People who claim that the gifts "died out with the original apostles"). Many traditional Christians like Orthodox and Catholics are defacto unofficial continualists by virtue of their official theology (they believe in saints through history have done various miracles and possessed other supernatural gifts of healing, prophesy etc.).
There are different opinions on the Pentecostal revival:
A) Some see it as being a legitimate work of the Holy Spirit. (This is some of the reason why the Catholic Charismatic movement took place during the time of Vatican II of the 1960s where Ecumenicism between Protestants was also under way. Catholics began attending Full Gospel churches and brought Pentecostalism back with them in their Churches. This made the bishops nervous but was ultimately accepted by the Church hierarchy as something that was beneficial to the Church, but they started their own movement within Catholicism so Catholics would not adopt other Protestant beliefs that were at odds with official dogma and the Magisterium).
B) Others like many Eastern Orthodox will interpret it as being a kind of delusion. There is a Russian Orthodox term known as Prelest (Spiritual Delusion) that describes when demons grant supernatural gifts to people to feed their pride and so that they may lead themselves and others into heresy and eventual destruction. That sort of opinion is common among Eastern Orthodox. A monk who convert to Orthodoxy (from Buddhism) named Seraphim Rose wrote a number of anti-Charismatic books and pamphlets. There however are a number of converts to Orthodoxy who come from Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Some of these people have even become clergy, writers and pundits in the Orthodox Church. Anyway some of these formerly Charismatic Orthodox,believe the movement to be positve, but also flawed or incomplete (Their background set the stage for them to seek Orthodoxy where they claim to have found "The Fullness of the Faith").
C) Personally I believe the Pentecostal revival is something that is both Spiritual (Of God and at times Satan), but also "Socially Constructed". By Socially Constructed, I mean the assumption that "spiritual gifts disappeared until 1900" is a reality that was originally created by believing in the assumptions of Cessionism (That I believe are historically and Biblically wrong). So in other words, it was not that the Gifts totally disappeared, but that Protestants have made an interpretation of history in that direction (By ignoring and disregarding the Church History, and hagiographies of Ancient and Medieval times etc.)
It may be that the polemic of the early 20th-century Pentecostals led them to make more of the supposed hiatus than there actually was, since history shows us that there was no 1900-year hiatus. While some Church Fathers might have denied the perpetuity of the Gifts, at least part of this was a reaction to the excesses of Montanism. On the other hand, other Church Fathers mentioned the entire panoply of NT charismata.
Irenaeus, 2nd century: “Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands of them, and they are made whole.” (Source: Philip Schaff, Irenaeus Against Heresies Ante-Nicene: 100-325, Vol. 2 of The History of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973, p. 531)
Novatian, 3rd century: “This is He who places the prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggest counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts, there are of charismata; and thus makes the Lord’s church everywhere, and in all, perfected, and completed.” (Source: Philip Schaff, "Treatise Concerning the Trinity, XXIX," Ante-Nicene: 100-325, vol. 2 of The History of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973, p. 641)
Of course, Augustine's move away from apparent cessationism in the 5th century is well documented.
The question of the seeming relative paucity of supernatural manifestations has, I think, many answers, among which are probably:
- Lack of faith
- Lack of teaching and models
- Gradual move away in general from lay involvement in ministry
- Coldness, which was John Wesley's explanation
- Reaction by the Reformers against spurious folk Catholic miracles, etc.
There are many eschatological systems. The one to which I subscribe (a historicist position) interprets the letters to the seven churches in Revelation as a schema for the church age. Select Individual believers and churches were faithful throughout history, but the church at large lurches between different spritual weaknesses and fads in each age. The sixth age, corresponding to the church of Philadelphia, was the age of the Reformation and extensive foreign missions, from roughly 1450 to 1950. Its faithfulness was accompanied by (or accomplished by) a fresh outpouring of God's spirit. This difference between the church ages accounts for the relative paucity or plenitude of spiritual gifts. They never ceased, but they did vary greatly in how commonly they were expressed in the church.
7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
If this position is correct, then the current age is the church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church. True expressions of the gifts will greatly diminish in frequency, provoking prideful people to either counterfeit them in order to avoid admitting their true spiritual condition or deny that they ever happened in the past.
I do not exempt myself. When I was younger, I suffered many nightmares, falsely attributing them to God and believing them to be prophetic. When I searched my own heart through prayer and the light of scripture and rejected this "gift", I was delivered from the nightmares (and a measure of my pride). Years later I was able to enjoy some supernatural fruit of the spirit, but never so much as my proud imagination once thought I possessed, and certainly not prophecies that I could use to command or manipulate other people with for my own elevation. Thus I do not deny the gifts, but neither do I deny the temptation to succumb to unhealthy, possibly demonic influences. We want power, plain and simple. God wants humility.