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Ebola Got Me Thinking: What Is The Lutheran View Regarding 'Divine Healing' Or 'Miraculous Healing'?

With the world's focus on Ebola right now, I found myself thinking about a subject that became quite prominent in my life around a year or two ago at this time.

In fact, as contentious and heated as it was at times, I can look back now and credit it with being instrumental in putting me on the path to becoming a Confessional Lutheran.

I was getting together regularly with a couple of guys who I became acquainted with (one a brother from my LCMS Church and the other a Teacher at the Lutheran Day School that my children attend, but a non-Lutheran, Non-Denominational, Assemblies of God/Charismatic/Pentecostal leaning type) to enjoy some good old male bonding over some cold beer and crispy chicken wings while also discussing our shared and cherished faith.

At first, I just naturally assumed we were all on the same page, especially when it came to the fundamentals. What I quickly learned was that we were like those corny jokes you hear all the time: "A Newtheran, A Lifelong-Lutheran-In-Name-Only, and a Charismatic-Pentecostal walk into a bar..."

What invariably happened each and every time we got together over the course of several months was me and the other Lutheran trying to explain to the Charismatic/Pentecostal why "being a Christian" was all about Jesus Christ FOR YOU as opposed to tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit as though He was a "Spiritual Red Bull" so that we could become little gods ourselves.

From there, we talked often of how we shouldn't idolize a guy like Todd Bentley or put our trust in dreams, feelings, and visions let alone the 4-hour "miraculous healing" worship services conducted each and every week by the local House Church where someone invariably "grows an arm (or a leg)" or is "cured of cancer...even though we're still waiting for her tests to come back just to be sure."
Over time, I discovered that neither wanted to spend much time with "Red, The Doctrinal Bloodhound" (the nickname they both gave me after only a couple of meetings together simply because I believe that "doctrine is heaven")

Actually, they soon decided not to spend any more time with me at all since I challenged their worldview by simply speaking "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) just like we're expected to. The Charismatic/Pentecostal has told me to my face that it's "pointless arguing with a Lutheran" because our insistence on pure doctrine all the time (mainly our insistence upon the objective over the subjective is what he really meant) does nothing except "intentionally divide the Body of Christ" and the "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" thinks I'm "too Lutheran" and need to be "less sarcastic" particularly because he's really an Evangelical wrapped in Lutheran packaging.

It's unfortunate to say the least, but it is what it is (1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 1:10). Believe it or not, I've learned quite a bit from them, and I thank the Lord for that. I also praise God for giving me a desire to remain steadfast to His Word and what it is we believe, teach, and confess when it comes to proclaiming Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind.

As mentioned, as challenging as those conversations were at times, the Lord used them to lead me to the Confessional Lutheran faith -- of that I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever! I know this simply because whenever I would get home from one of those get-togethers I would immediately jump on the Internet and begin looking for answers to the many questions I had that came up from our discussions about the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and miracles today.

It wasn't long before I began to find some gems that addressed the topic directly and succinctly.


Just as the Biblical concepts of resurrection and eternity are hardly any longer understood in modern Christianity, so also the understanding of the Holy Spirit has more and more disappeared. One does not yet know who the Holy Spirit is if one knows the workings of the Spirit or of spirits as reported in the epistles of Paul. He tells of speaking in tongues, of prophecy, of visions, of things heard, of gifts of healing, of the power to do miracles, and all sorts of gifts. Most of these phenomena do not belong only to Christianity but are found in many a religion. They are native to ecstatic religion, which is found all over the world. Here a person thinks of his powers and capacities as intensified into the supernatural because divinity is at work in him. Such primitive expressions of ecstatic religion were much prized in Corinth as evidence of possessing the Holy Spirit. Paul himself had experience of them, and yet he ranks them less than the silent working of the Spirit of Christ. In making this distinction, he does the same as the prophets of the Old Testament. They had such experiences too, and yet they decisively marked themselves off from the ecstatic seers and professional prophets. What is the significance of this distinction? It is connected with the distinction between true and false prophets and so also the scrupulous distinction between God and man – between what is truly God’s doing and what is not. 
*- Hermann Sasse, “Jesus Christ is Lord: The Church’s Original Confession,” in We Confess Jesus Christ, p.29


How applicable is that quote to much of what's masquerading as "Christianity" in the mainstream today? Still, I wasn't satisfied with that though, and so I went digging for more and ended up finding pure gold at Worldview Everlasting!


Q: I’ve been having discussions with a friend lately about miraculous healings. I do believe that God can and does miraculously heal people today, but I’m struggling with the idea that we can demand healing or expect it. That doesn’t seem to me to fit with a theology of the cross. My friend really likes Bill Johnson and what he teaches, but when I listen to his teaching on healing and Scripture in general, I am left with the impression that he is taking Scripture out of context at best, and perhaps just straight up abusing it. What answer could I give my friend regarding healing today that fits within a theology of the cross and isn’t centered on what I want or feel I “deserve” as a child of God? 
A: First, we demand nothing of God, we always pray for God to be merciful toward us for we deserve nothing but his present and eternal punishment. What we can expect of God are the promises that he gives us in his word and sacrament. The chief promise is the forgiveness of sins through his Son, Jesus Christ crucified for our sins. He also promises to hear our prayer. Though, again we deserve nothing for which we pray, yet out of his Fatherly goodness, God the Father gives us what we ask for in Jesus’ name. All prayer that is made in accord with God’s will are answered yes in Christ. Can one pray for a miraculous healing? Yes. Can one demand it? No. Does being a child of God guarantee a miraculous healing? No. Rather as a child of God we are sure of one thing: when Christ returns we will be completely healed body and soul when we are raised from the dead freed from the corruption of sin and death. Faith is given so that one may have trust that over and against their terror and sorrow over sin, that they have Jesus as their savior from their sin. They are freed from the most terrible tyrant, death. 
Now, personally I have never suffered a debilitating disease, yet my body is breaking down even at the tender age of 45. My eyesight is getting worse and I am on several medications. One week I had to sit and let a supply pastor preach because I had severe laryngitis, though I had prayed for God to give me my voice back. I cannot look beyond the cross to see why these things happened to me. They are reminders that I am a sinner, cursed to suffer infirmities and death. They are reminders that I am to daily repent: confess that I am a sinner, guilty of original sin along with my daily sins, and turn to Jesus alone for redress of my sinful estate. He has given me the greatest healing in baptism where all my sin was washed away, drowned in his blood and I was raised a new creation. In his word I hear how he promises to always deal with me mercifully, when his word of law accuses me, for he is a patient and long-suffering God. In his supper I receive his very body and blood given and shed for me to sustain my faith in the forgiveness of sins so that I can cling to the hope of everlasting life. These are the miracles I can expect from a merciful God. I can not demand them, but I can come every Lord’s day and trust they are there for me. 
Miraculous healings are not a mark of the church for they do not impart faith and forgiveness. They were a mark of Jesus’ messianic ministry and of the apostles (they were “apostled” to do them). And, those who followed in their footsteps were sent to proclaim the word of God (Law and Gospel) and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the means of grace unto eternal life. Pastor’s are stewards of these mysteries through which the miraculous occurs. For sinners dead in their trespasses, the word they proclaim in Christ’s stead and the sacraments they administer in the stead of Christ raises those same sinners from death to new life (What else is resurrection but a miracle.) Neither you or I can demand this miracle for it comes apart from our will. Yet, it is the only miracle we can expect from God for that is the revealed will of God in his son, Jesus Christ, for sinners. 
********************************************** 
Q: In one of your previous videos, you answer an atheists assumptions about what the bible says about prayer, and how Christians don’t necessarily believe god will answer all prayers for healing. I noticed in the comments section someone brought up Mark 11:24, I looked it up, and now I’m uncertain about the matter. Can you please help me out? 
A: Although the author of the Scriptures is divine, they are written with human languages using human idiom. Jesus used hyperbole. It’s just that simple. This verse is only one of many examples. None of Jesus’ disciples would have understood this statement any other way. They did not hear Jesus say this, pray once, and then assume that Jesus was a liar. That would have been the number one, fool-proof test of Christianity. No one would have ever believed! Now, an atheist might just say that this is an excuse, but it’s not. Other speech is not held to this kind of standard. No one calls an undertaker when someone says, “I’m so embarrassed I could die!” Not even atheists… 
That takes care of Mark 11:24. Now, for the more the general question of healing. Christ does actually grant healing to all who ask for it in his name. Everyone who trusts in Christ has received eschatological healing. Miraculous healings are nothing more than an in-breaking of the eschaton. They should be welcomed with thanks, but not expected. Nor should one think that their level of faith somehow fuels God’s decision to grant such an in-breaking. All of the closest people to Jesus died — some in brutal ways. Every Christian will die of their final disease, even those with the strongest faith. 
Why pray? Because God commands us to pray, promises to hear our prayer, and responds to prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, and so we do, knowing that our prayers are heard because him. Notice that when he taught us to pray, he did not include a petition for healing. He did, however, include a petition asking that the will of the Father be done, and this is how he even prayed in the face of his own suffering and death. 
*- Rev. Robert O. Riebau 
[Via]


Fairly straightforward and easy to understand.

However, in light of this anniversary of sorts, I thought it might be interesting to see what else we Lutherans have traditionally believed, taught, and confessed when it comes to the subject of "Divine Healing" or "Miraculous Healings" (as in whether or not Martin Luther ever said anything notable about it), especially since the Ebola virus has been dominating the news headlines and capturing our attention to no end.

At first, I simply made a mental note to look into that on my own, but then I saw someone share the following meme on Facebook a few days ago and decided now was as good a time as ever to do some research and share it here.

Here's what I found on the subject...


 
Luther And Healing 
He Viewed Healing As An Integral Part of The Church's Ministry 
By Bengt Hoffman 
Under the impact of rationalism the church has often relegated spiritual healing to a bygone age. Healing miracles occurred when Jesus lived in history, it has been said, but no longer. Some theologians have been known to claim that miracles . . . perhaps never actually were historical facts but rather faith’s understandable adornment of the beloved memory of the Teacher. Martin Luther did not think that way, and it is futile to reconcile him with modernity in this regard . . . . 
To Gerhard Wilskemp, Luther wrote about an illness from which he was suffering: "Christ has so far triumphed, I commend myself to the prayers of yourself and the brethren. I have healed others, I cannot heal myself." In other words, Luther had placed himself at God’s disposal for spiritual healing of people sick in mind and body. At this particular juncture he despaired a little about the possibility of being healed himself. 
When Philip Melanchthon lay gravely ill, Luther turned to the window in the sickroom and poured out his soul in the boldest and most glowing prayer for his friend's recovery. About this occasion Luther wrote: "This time I besought the Almighty with great vigor. I attacked him with his own weapons, quoting from Scripture all the promises I could remember, that prayers should be granted, and said that he must grant my prayer, if I was henceforth to put faith in his promises." Luther then took the hand of the sick man saying: "Be of good courage, Philip, you will not die, although the Lord might see cause to kill, yet he does not will the death of the sinner, but rather that he should turn to him and live. God has called the greatest sinners unto mercy; how much less, then, will he cast you off, my Philip, or destroy you in sin and sadness. Therefore, do not give way to grief, do not become your own murderer, but trust in the Lord, who can kill and bring to life, who can strike and heal again."  
It is clear that Luther knew Melanchthon’s inner struggle at the time, namely, that Melanchthon was blaming himself for too little stoutness in the defense of the evangelical cause. Melanchthon would rather have passed away in peace than have to return to earthly strife. But the power channeled by Luther’s prayer recalled the sick man. Melanchthon recovered from what appeared to be the brink of death. He wrote later: "I was recalled from death to life by divine power."  
Let no one who still considers the healing services of the church a dubious undertaking from the vantage point of the Lutheran Reformation believe that Luther’s allusions to and recommendations of spiritual healing were incidental and thus not built into his concept of Christ’s power. There is among Luther’s letters a document which shows us beyond any doubt that he viewed spiritual healing as an integral part of the pastoral task of the church. 
He did not forget that medically trained people should be consulted. But especially when their counsels seemed at an end the constant necessity for intercessory prayer stood out plainly. The petitions should be regular and ritually ordered. Thus reads the letter from Martin Luther to Pastor Severin Schulze:

 


" . . . Venerable Sir and Pastor, . . . I offer some good advice and help for the afflicted husband of Mrs. John Korner. I know of no worldly help to give. If the physicians are at a loss to find a remedy, you may be sure that it is not a case of ordinary melancholy . . . . This must be counteracted by the power of Christ and with the prayer of faith. This is what we do – and we have been accustomed to it, for a cabinetmaker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ’s name. 
You should consequently proceed as follows. Go to him with the deacon and two or three good men. Confident that you, as pastor of the place, are invested with the authority of the ministerial office, lay your hands upon him and say: ‘Peace be with you, dear brother, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Thereupon read the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer over him in a clear voice, and close with these words: ‘O God, Almighty Father, who has told us through your Son, Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you;’ who has commanded and encouraged us to pray in His name ‘Ask and you shall receive;’ and who in like manner has said, ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you shalt glorify me;’ we unworthy sinners, relying on these your words and command, pray for your mercy with such faith as we can muster. Graciously deign to free this man from all evil, and put to nought the work that Satan has done in him, to the honor of your name and the strengthening of the faith of believers. Through the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, world without end. Amen. 
Then when you depart, lay your hands on the man again and say: ‘These signs shall follow them that believe; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.’  
Do this three times, once on each of three successive days. Meanwhile let prayers be said from the chancel of the church, publicly until God hears them. 
To the extent to which we are able, we shall at the same time unite our faithful prayers and petitions to the Lord with yours."

 

It will be noted that the kind of healing Luther described here was in part exorcism. If we recognize the likelihood or accept the certainty of a "peopled" dimension beyond the natural sphere determined by our senses, we have to reckon with the reality of obsession. Luther’s sermon on angels plainly does. It may seem an impossible idea in a modern scientific world. But then both western experiences on the mission fields and a new sense for the occult overtones of human existence in our day and age have altered some presuppositions. Not a few ordained clergy in the western world are "part-time exorcists," in the name of Christ. More of them are building into the curriculum of the parish services intercessory prayers for the sick. An equally growing number are laying hands on the sick in private pastoral encounters. 
*- Bengt R. Hoffman: Luther And The Mystics, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1976), pp. 195-200.


So, it seems quite clear that there was a high view of spiritual, divine/miraculous healing in the Reformation period.

Let's quickly recap something from the above excerpt though -- the letter Luther wrote.


MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546) In Luther: Letters of Spiritual Council, the following letter of Martin Luther is recorded: “The tax collector in Torgau and the councillor in Belgern have written me to ask that I offer some good advice and help for Mrs. John Korner's afflicted husband. I know of no worldly help to give. If the physicians are at a loss to find a remedy, you may be sure that it is not a case of ordinary melancholy. It must, rather, be an affliction that comes from the devil, and this must be counteracted by the power of Christ with the prayer of faith. This is what we do and what we have been accustomed to do, for a cabinet maker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ's name. 
Accordingly you should proceed as follows: Go to him with the deacon and two or three good men. Confident that you, as pastor of the place, are clothed with the authority of the ministerial office, lay your hands upon him and say, 'Peace be with you, dear brother, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.' Thereupon repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer over him in a clear voice, and close with these words: 'O God, almighty Father, who hast told us through thy Son, 'Verily, verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you'; who hast commanded and encouraged us to pray in his name, 'Ask, and ye shall receive'; and who in like manner hast said, 'Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me;’ we unworthy sinners, relying on these thy words and commands, pray for thy mercy with such faith as we can muster. Graciously deign to free this man from all evil, and put to nought the work that Satan has done in him, to the honour of thy name and the strengthening of the faith of believers; through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, world without end. Amen.' Then, when you depart, lay your hands upon the man again and say, 'These signs shall follow them that believe; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.'  
Do this three times, once on each of three successive days. Meanwhile let prayers be' said from the chancel of the church, publicly, until God hears them. 
In so far as we are able, we shall at the same time unite our faithful prayers and petitions to the Lord with yours. 
Farewell. Other counsel that this I do not have. I remain, etc. 
*- Martin Luther (Tappert, ed., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, nd. 18:52).


Fascinating, isn't it? I mean, after all, the Lutheran Church is not exactly known for being...public (if that's even the right word to use)...about their belief in and practice of prayers for spiritual, divine/miraculous healing.

Sure, we pray for the hurting and the sick all the time (day-to-day perhaps and definitely as a congregation each week during the worship service and sometimes even naming specific names too), but the above info would seem to suggest something a little more intense (if you will allow me to use an adjective at the risk of sounding like an Evangelical whose always going on-and-on about us needing to be more "radical" or something).

God willing, I'm sure there will be more to come, but we'll end here for now and prayerfully consider what we have just looked at together.

At first glance, it would appear as though Martin Luther had faith that divine/miraculous healing was still very possible on this side of the cross even if it wasn't the norm like in the early days of the Christian Church.

Perhaps the difference between the Lutheran view and the Charismatic/Pentecostal view so popular today is simply that our faith isn't misplaced like theirs is.

To put it another way, our faith is firmly placed in the power of the Lord to heal and to save us -- with the very clear caveat -- if He so chooses, but we would never believe, teach, or confess that we should place our faith in faith itself.

So, for me, when it comes to the topic of Ebola (or anything else) and the Lutheran view regarding divine healing or miraculous healing, I'll continue to put my faith where it belongs.


My Refuge And My Fortress 
Psalm 91 (ESV) 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. 14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”


This strong confession of faith and example of a life entrusted to God's protective safety urges all hearers and readers to seek the Lord's refuge when fearful times arise.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, let's remember that "miraculous healings are not a mark of the church for they do not impart faith and forgiveness" because "they were a mark of Jesus’ messianic ministry and of the apostles (they were 'apostled' to do them)" and "those who followed in their footsteps were sent to proclaim the word of God (Law and Gospel) and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the means of grace unto eternal life."

Please share any additional information that you might find in the Comments Section below.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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About JKR

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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