Thursday, May 13, 2010

What About This?

One of the Bible passages assigned for Sunday, May 16, begins like this:
"One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour" (Acts 16:16-18).
What are we to make of this?  The Apostle Paul released a slave from bondage!  But look how he did it!  It was an act of powerful deliverance.  Just by speaking, in Jesus' name, the powers of God were released and the "evil spirit" that was binding that young woman and annoying Paul--that spirit left her "that very hour."  This upset not only the spirit, but the owners who were making money at her expense.

What are we to make of this "supernatural" stuff.  Are there such things as evil spirits?  I wrote about this just after midnight yesterday in a post entitled "Reasonable But Beyond Our Sight."  Jesus dealt with the spiritual world on a regular basis during his ministry.  The first Christians did too.  Can we easily just ignore it?  I don't think so.  I think it is good to be aware.  Not to be "impressed" or obsessive about evil and evil spirits, but, not to be ignorant either.

We Lutherans have pretty much lost any awareness or belief in the powers of darkness.  It just seems so spooky and unreal.  Normally we push it aside as unenlightened, superstitious, a relic of pre-scientific times.  I'm not sure that is wise.

We ought to be aware that many Christians are continuing, or reclaiming, the ministry of deliverance similar to what Paul did in Acts 16.  I came back to the church and heard my initial call to the ordained ministry through a "charismatic" church and conference.  I've seen the fruit of programs like "Alpha" that include teachings about the supernatural.  That's part of what we've been learning and praying about at the prayer school this week.  This wing of the Christian church is reclaiming a part of our Christian heritage that has been covered over for a very long time.  I'm still processing what it means for me.

Here's a small part of what we learned today.  I think it is a very interesting theory.  See what you think.
Until about 325 AD Christians regularly experienced miracles, healings and deliverance from the powers of evil.  This changed when Christians made a compromise with the Roman Empire.  The church was institutionalized and was given political authority but at the same time took on some non-Christian qualities.  For example, from that time and after the major Christian festivals were connected with pagan holidays.  This seemed to be connected with the end of supernatural ministry among Christians except in isolated areas far from Rome.  The Irish benefited from the miraculous missionary work of Saint Patrick, for example, who, according to what I learned today, was not a part of the Roman Catholic Church.
Okay... take a deep breath... there is more...
According to what I learned today, the "pagan" influence, tied with some of the institutions and traditions of Christianity, not only tied the hands of "ordinary" Christians (non-clergy), reserving ministry for just a few, it also brought actual "strongholds" of evil spirits, such as the "spirit of divination" referred to in Acts 16 into the mainstream culture of the church.  These spiritual forces of evil--which are named in the Bible--have inhibited or limited the Christian experience of the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, making the church lack joy, love and power.  In the end, these things have made the church into a self-serving institution.
That's just a bit of the theory we're learning here.  I'm not sure what to think.  But I have seen evidence of God's power at work in prayer in ways that can't be explained by mere positive thinking.  I have also seen people suffer terribly from what seems to be organized and powerful evil influences.  So, I will continue to learn, and continue to pray.

And (another deep breath here!), when I see someone suffering under what just might be an evil spiritual influence, why wouldn't I do as Paul did, taking the authority of Jesus to bring peace and freedom to one of God's beloved children?  Or do I think I'm so much wiser and sophisticated that none of this "supernatural" stuff could really be true?  If we are dedicated to setting people free from physical slavery, why not from spiritual or emotional bondage?  After this week of prayer school, I think I'll be ready, when it seems clear enough, to take action instead of standing meekly by.

In any case, I will always preach Jesus first.  I won't get sidetracked from the shining center of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ and his love his grace and his peace.  This area of the "supernatural"--which Martin Luther knew was real--it can be overemphasized.  We always need to focus on Jesus first.  Every prayer, every act of charity and service, every part of daily life, AND every release from bondage--every good thing comes because of what He has done in his saving death and victorious resurrection.  Nothing good comes from me.

As always, I encourage you to respond.  Part of the purpose of this blog is to share so you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, can correct me, push me, and share your own questions, so together we can serve our Lord. Comment below or talk with me in another way.

May the peace and power of our Lord Jesus and his Holy Spirit be with you always.

1 comment:

  1. I believe topics like healing the sick and casting out demons (all in Jesus' name, power and authority) are minimized by too many believers. It is real and is still happening today. I have seen it with my own eyes and have even been healed myself. It is powerful and biblical, not some hocus pocus voodoo stuff. It happened all the time in the Bible and there is no reason to believe it shouldn't still be happening. The Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, is the exact same Holy Spirit that dwells in us! By His wounds you HAVE BEEN healed (1 Peter 2:24). Believe it....

    Have a great day!