TEST THE SPIRITS
We in the Church of the Lutheran Confession and in our sister churches do not have persons who have visions from God. We do not speak in tongues. We do not perform exorcisms. None of us have the power to heal through our laying on of hands. We freely admit this and give glory to God that what we do have is His Word in its truth and purity. It is God’s Word in its glory and power and vastly overshadows the apostolic ability to perform miracles. God can and still does perform miracles. He converts through the power of the Gospel of Christ, whether it be a little baby through the Gospel in the sacrament of baptism or an adult with a heart of unbelief through the Gospel in the Word. He strengthens faith through the mysterious power of His Word when it stands alone or through His Word in the sacrament of the altar, communion. As you can see, our emphasis is on the Word. And this is the emphasis of the Bible itself.
The Lord taught that if we continue in His Word then we are His disciples. It is then that we know the truth and are free through that truth. Jn. 8:31-32. The miraculous power of the Word is clearly explained in Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Paul likewise draws attention to the Gospel as the power of God for salvation. Rom. l:16
It is this all-powerful Word that we are studying in this pamphlet. May the Spirit of God who works through the Word strengthen your faith in Him through your study of His Word.
Test the Spirits
It is the apostle of love who encourages us to test the spirits to see whether they are of God. How do we test the spirits? We examine in the light of God’s Word. The Word of God sheds the needed light to understand whether tongues, exorcisms, healings, and visions are of God or of some other source. The Word of God is the standard or rule by which we judge whether they are present today or not. And notice that it is the apostle of love who also warns us against false prophets and the spirit of antichrist. I Jn. 2:18-27, 4:1-6 It is a mark of love that we print and distribute this pamphlet in order that the reader may possess the spirit of truth and not the spirit of error.
It is said by some today that the spiritual gifts of being able to perform miracles are present in His Church today as they were in apostolic times. First of all, let us see which are the higher gifts of the Spirit. At the top of anyone’s list has to be the forgiveness of sins, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jn. 20:22-23 The apostles had the forgiveness of their dreadful sin and in turn were to share and announce this as their foremost task.
From this gift of forgiveness flow the other gifts as the Lord grants them. To the congregation at Corinth, which was in turmoil and confusion because they were not following the Word, Paul wrote, “Earnestly desire the higher gifts.” I Cor. 12:31 The higher gifts are set forth by Paul in verse 23 of the same chapter. He sets them forth as ‘firstly, secondly, and thirdly.’ The higher gifts are those which enable one to be an apostle, a prophet (preacher), and a teacher. These three offices in the church all center in the Word. It is the Word that is all-important, because through it faith is kindled and fanned to burn brightly in this dark age of sin and error.
From the study of God’s Word come the spiritual gifts of faith, hope and love. Paul especially singles out ‘love’ in I Corinthians chapter 13. In that chapter he says that the gift of tongues ‘will cease.’ Then he goes into detail about tongues in chapter 14 because they were so mixed up about them at Corinth. Likewise today, chapter 14 should be studied in detail by those who today are mixed up about tongues. Paul points out how tongues are a lesser gift. It is the Word that is vital. I Cor. 14:19, “nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
In apostolic days there were higher gifts and lesser gifts. We still possess the higher gifts and must for our salvation and for our progress in the Christian faith.
Purpose of Lesser Gifts of Performing Miracles
There is a very important passage that explains the purpose of the lesser gifts of performing miracles. We read in Mark 16:20, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by signs that attended it.” The signs performed by the apostles confirmed the message. They were signposts saying, ‘this is the all-powerful Word of God, preached by these men.’ They pointed at the Word and not away from it. Once the whole Bible was given with the last book, Revelation, THE divine revelation was complete. There was no further need for divine revelation in visions, tongues, etc. There is even the severe warning at the end of the Bible not to add to God’s divine revelation, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book…” Rev. 22:18
There is somewhat of a parallel in our Lord and His miracles. While individual miracles, such as healings, helped certain people and demonstrated the love of God, overall His miracles testified that He was the Son of God. Did any man ever do such things as he did? The apostle John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Jn. l:14 Jesus’ miracles showed Him to be the eternal Word made flesh, the Almighty God who redeems mankind. When Jesus walked about on earth in His incarnation, His miracles pointed at Him and said, ‘Listen to Him.’ So also, as the Word was being given by the apostles, the signs accompanying the giving of the Word pointed at it and said, ‘This is God’s divine revelation, listen to it.’
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, “We must pay the closer attention to what we have heard…It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard Him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His own will.” Heb. 2:1,3-4God bore witness through miracles that it was His Word.
The canon of the Bible is now complete. This is all revelation from God given to us in His Word. We are to study it, read it, learn it, and trust in it, because in it is revealed our loving Lord and the Way of salvation which He has won for us. The signs accompanied the giving of the Word. We now have all the Word.
Origin of Supposed Miracles Today
One possibility on the origin of supposed miracles today is that they are faked. In Paul’s day there were many charlatans on the road spouting forth their great truths and performing their supposed miracles. It was all to gain a following. Peter came across Simon the magician who through his tricks thought he should be called ‘great.’ “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God…For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” II Cor. 4:2,5 It is no different now than in Paul’s day; still men wish to gain a following for themselves. It is entirely possible then that one answer to the so-called miracles today is that they are simply faked. We know that this is well within the realm of man’s imagination which is evil from his youth. We also see ‘new’ miracles done now among charismatics and Pentecostals such as feinting in the spirit and holy laughter. Where are these in Scripture? No place. We follow the Word and not man’s emotions.
Secondly, it could be a case of the mind playing tricks. The mind of man is a fantastic gift of God. None of us fully use our minds. There is so much more to this gift than we understand. With regard to our mind as well as all of our body, we are truly ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ Perhaps you have experienced your mind playing tricks on you after a lengthy period without having eaten. We read also of the effect of drugs on the mind.
In the case of supposed healings today it could be psychosomatic illness that is ‘healed.’ A psychosomatic illness is one in which the mind controls the body. One may not be able to move the arm for instance, higher than a certain point not because of an organic or bodily problem, but because of the mind’s subconscious control. It could be perhaps fear of pain if the arm is moved any higher. If one in an emotional frenzy moves the arm higher, it is not really a healing such as the man born blind who received his sight from the Lord. In the case of overcoming a psychosomatic ailment, it is to a greater or lesser degree self-induced.
Thirdly, we must not underestimate the power of the devil in performing lying wonders. He is the father of lies and the deceiver from the beginning. Paul wrote toEphesus and spoke of the devil as being very powerful. Eph. 2:2,6:10-11 Paul also in speaking of the coming of the lawless one, the antichrist, wrote, “The coming of the lawless one by he activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception…” II Thess. 2:9-10The devil is the organizer of much that is disruptive and confusing. He is not above being behind these supposed miracles today.
Now let us look individually at the cases of supposed apostolic miracles of today. Probably the one most ‘practiced’ is tongues. This is the ability to speak in a language previously unknown to the speaker. To learn what the original tongues were we look at the first example of them at Pentecost. In Acts chapter 2 the apostles who had gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost spoke in languages which they had not known. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4. Those speaking were Galileans. And yet people of the various nations who were inJerusalem at the time heard in their own native languages of the mighty works of God. One very important characteristic of tongues was that it was a known language. Another characteristic is that it was a language unknown to the speaker.
Tongues gets its name from the first instance at Pentecost. We consider the later incidents at Cornelius’ house, with the group of former disciples of John the baptizer, and with the problems with tongues at Corinth all in the light of Pentecost. This is a simple principle of interpretation. So today also we judge by the Pentecost example. Many examples of tongues today are simply gibberish. To be true tongues it must be a known language.
Because of much confusion at Corinth, which was troubled with more than just improper tongues, Paul said there should be an interpreter. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God.” I Cor. 14:27-28. Today there are those who claim not only the gift of tongues, but also the ability to interpret. It is far better if another interprets.
Tongues in apostolic days were not disruptive of the worship service. Today they who practice these supposed tongues do it less for edification than for show of the power of the Spirit. Paul again, “Let all things be done for edification…For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” I Cor. 14:26,33
Second in frequency today of the supposed miracles are those of healings. Already, we have considered psychosomatic illness. We also readily admit that God can miraculously heal, when all the doctors have given up. We also believe that we should pray for one another for healing , and regained health. This is entirely Christian. But that God will heal through the laying on of hands today is another thing. It is one thing to say, ‘Be healed,’ and quite another to pray to God for healing for a person. Who today would dare to say that their shadow falling across a sick person would cause healing? Or who today could claim that a handkerchief taken from his body would grant healing?
Third in frequency of occurrence are supposed visions. Can an Agabus come into our assembly today and reveal a vision or dream from God? The Bible is complete. Divine revelation is closed with the warning not to try to add to it. Read Deut. 13 to see how they were to deal in Old Testament times with false dreamers.
Today there are some who claim to be exorcists, people who cast out demons. So much that we said on healings applies here also. It is to be noted that demon possession was a phenomenon very much of Jesus’ day. It is a lesson of history to be learned. When the Son of God came to earth, His old enemy did all he could to rival Him. So we had demon possession as reported in the New Testament. But the power of God is greater than the power of the devil, so that Christ and His apostles cast out demons, or fallen angels who tortured the bodies of people. If demon possession still exists today, which is questionable, we have the power of prayer, knowing that the prayers of a righteous man have great power in their effect.
If it true as some maintain that the lesser gifts of performing miracles is still present today in the church, then there are some impossible questions to be answered. Why are only some of the gifts of miracles present? Who today would dare to pick up a deadly snake? Mk. 16:18 For Paul on the island of Malta, the viper bite did not affect him. Acts 28:3-6 For us today it would mean the hospital, medicine or perhaps death. For us to purposely pick up a poisonous snake so that it would bite us would be to tempt God. Who of us would dare to drink any deadly thing on purpose, thinking it would not hurt us? Mk. 16:18
Why are the lesser gifts of miracles present in only some of the churches today and not in others? In Luke 10:17 the seventy returned with joy saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” This and other passages indicate that these gifts were widespread in apostolic days. Why then and not now?
Why is it that a very vocal supporter of the modern phenomena of these miracles has been the church of the antichrist, the Roman papacy? Consider how through the years they have claimed visions and now tongues. The church of the Roman papacy still says that we are saved by faith and works and damns any who say that we are saved by faith in Christ alone. Indeed, test the spirits to see whether they are of God.
Real Power Is In The Word
We do not need supposed miracles to bolster our faith in the Lord. We do not need to create miraculous occurrences to gain a following. We know the power of the devil to deceive in these last days. What we need and what we know is the Bible. We Lutherans have been accused of having a paper pope in the Bible. We do not worship the Bible, but we worship the Lord who gave the Scriptures to us. It is His Word, God-breathed as Paul says and of no one’s private interpretation as Peter says. We study it and His Spirit leads us into all truth and we reject the spirit of error. The Word of God is living and active, it being the real power in our lives. With the Word we have eternal Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us for our redemption.
As Jesus promised, may you have his Spirit who works through the Word.
May he bring to your remembrance what Jesus said.
May He teach you all things.
May He guide you into all truth. To God alone be the glory.