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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Miracles and Prophecies

Wilhelm Loehe has a chapter in his book, Three Books Concerning the Church, entitled ,,Miracles and Prophecies are not a Mark of the Church". Loehe writes,

,,IT is certainly true that the miracles and prophecies of the prophets and apostles of the Truth have helped to show the poor children of men the way in which they ought to go. Of course, the Truth stood in no need of miracles and prophecies; it is superior to both; and eyes that are open recognize it in its proper being and in the mode of speech, which belongs to it alone, even without knowing it. But the simple, the prejudiced, the indolent and weak, do not lend their ear to the Truth unless they be aroused in some way. Such miracles and prophecies are especial gifts of the grace of God, and therefore we admit with the old Church-Fathers that the rapid progress of the Gospel without the signs and wonders that accompanied it would be impossible, except by a miracle which would have surpassed all other miracles.

,,After the Truth and the Church of the Truth had once been introduced into the world and had so demonstrated its truth to men for eighteen hundred years, neither miracles nor prophecies were needed any more; therefore miracles and prophecies have become less frequent. The preservation of the Church in spite the attacks of the devil and all his hordes, her un-weakened, fresh and ever-youthful continuance these eighteen hundred years, is miracle enough, if anyone were to think that the voice of the Truth in and for itself were not impressive and convincing enough. We must ever guard ourselves against being too easy misled by miracles, for there are Occurrences which happen quite like miracles and yet are not miracles, and therefore we must be able to distinguish miracles from wonderful and inexplicable events. Miracles in the proper sense are done by God only, either immediately, or mediately through His servants: Blessed is the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things (Psalm 72:18). On the other hand, false prophets, Antichrist, the beast, do wonderful things that resemble miracles and are called miracles in a wider sense (Matthew 24:24 ss; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13). If we admit that the arm of the Lord is not shortened; that He, wherever He sees best, in order to establish His heavenly Truth, can still do wonders; if we admit that there is nothing in Holy Scripture which says that miracles no longer can happen; yet it is very necessary to try the things which happen before our eyes, and to hold the universal rule that true miracles can occur only in the service of the true doctrine, and that without the true doctrine of God’s Word which is well known to us, they prove nothing at all (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

,,And it is so with prophecies. We do not deny that the spirit of prophecy still lives, that He rules and works, that the gift of prophecy is still in the Church; but we hold that all prophecy must be according to the analogy of faith,—namely, in the New Testament, must be related to the Word of the Lord as the particular to the universal, as the conclusion to the proposition, as the bud to the plant. A prophecy that does not confirm the true doctrine, or that is not in connection with it, is empty and worthless (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Further, a prophecy that rests on merely human foundations, or does not proceed from the Holy Spirit, even though it be ever so correct a conjecture, is not a prophecy; as, for instance, Balaam’s, Numbers 24, or Caiaphas’s, John 11:51, is no testimony to the man that said it. Therefore we must be just as critical of prophecies as of miracles, and must hold firmly that all prophecies must accord with the faith once delivered to the saints (Romans 12:7).

,,This distinction, which has to be made with reference to miracles and prophecies, shows that they cannot be characteristic marks of the Church. They need to be sifted and tried by the pure Word and the Scriptural Confession of the Church; they do not give a clear testimony; they, according to their nature, call to inquiry,—and this so much the more because it is not the Church only that has these uncertain witnesses; but heretics too, heathen, and Antichrist, boast and will boast of them" (Three Books 146-49).

The Lutheran Confessions in Augsburg Confession VII and VIII list the following as the true marks of the Church:

Preaching of the gospel (which is Christ crucified for us and our sins)

The Sacraments (which are Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but the Apology also allows for Absolution (Apology XIII.4) and Ordination (Apology XIII.11) to be acknowledged as sacraments).

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