“Charismatic” Phenomena and the Lutheran Confessions:
An Anthology

Confessional quotations are from The Book of Concord, edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959).

In the histories of the hermits there are stories of Anthony and of others which put various ways of life on the same level. It is written that when Anthony asked God to show him what progress he was making in his way of life, God pointed in a dream to a certain shoemaker in the city of Alexandria as a basis for comparison. the next day Anthony went into the city and came to the shoemaker to find out about his exercises and gifts. In his conversation with the man he did not hear anything, except that in the morning he prayed in a few words for the whole city and then paid attention to his business. Thus Anthony came to understand that justification was not to be attributed to the way of life he had undertaken. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXVII:38, pp. 275-76)

Thirty years ago, in the Thuringian town of Eisenach, there was a Franciscan named John Hilten. He was thrown into prison by his order because he had condemned certain notorious abuses. We have seen his writings, and from them the nature of his teaching can be well understood. Those who knew him testify that he was a mild old man, serious but not morose. He predicted many things. Some of them have already happened, and others seem to be impending. We do not want to recite them here lest we give the impression that we are doing so out of anger or favor toward anyone. But at last, when he became ill either on account of age or on account of the filth of the prison, he sent for the guardian to tell him of his illness. Inflamed with a pharisaical hatred, the guardian began to denounce him for his doctrine, which seemed to be injuring his food. Then with a sigh Hilten omitted all mention of his illness and said that he was bearing these injuries with equanimity for Christ’s sake inasmuch as he had neither written nor taught anything that threatened the monastic estate but had only denounced certain notorious abuses. “But another one will come,” he said, “in the year of our Lord 1516. He will destroy you, and you will be unable to resist him.” Later his friends found this same statement about the decline of the monastic regime and this same number of years written down by him in the commentaries he left on certain passages in Daniel. History will show how much credence should be given to this statement. But there are other signs, no less sure than oracles, which threaten a change in the monastic regime. (Apology XXVII:1-4, pp. 268-69)

Most of the things these men do with utter abandon cannot even be mentioned without blushing. They ask you to defend these libidos of theirs with your chaste right hand, Emperor Charles – you whom even some of the ancient prophecies call the king with the modest face, for the saying appears about you, “A man with a modest face will reign everywhere.” [cf. Sibylline Oracles, VIII, 169, 170] (Apology XXIII:2-3, p. 239)

...this highly enlightened man [Martin Luther] foresaw in the Spirit that after his death some would try to make him suspect by giving the impression that he had departed from this doctrine and other Christian articles... (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII:28, p. 574)

On the one hand, it is true that both the preacher’s planting and watering and the hearer’s running and willing would be in vain, and no conversion would follow, if there were not added the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, who through the Word preached and heard illuminates and converts hearts so that men believe this Word and give their assent to it. On the other hand, neither the preacher nor the hearer should question this grace and operation of the Holy Spirit, but should be certain that, when the Word of God is preached, pure and unalloyed according to God’s command and will, and when the people diligently and earnestly listen to and meditate on it, God is certainly present with his grace and gives what man is unable by his own powers to take or to give. We should not and cannot pass judgment on the Holy Spirit’s presence, operations, and gifts merely on the basis of our feeling, how and when we perceive it in our hearts. On the contrary, because the Holy Spirit’s activity often is hidden, and happens under cover of great weakness, we should be certain, because of and on the basis of his promise, that the Word which is heard and preached is an office and work of the Holy Spirit, whereby he assuredly is potent and active in our hearts (II Cor. 2:14 ff.). (Solid Declaration II:55-56, pp. 531-32)

In these matters, which concern the external, spoken Word, we must hold firmly to the conviction that God gives no one his Spirit or grace except through or with the external Word which comes before. Thus we shall be protected from the enthusiasts – that is, from the spiritualists who boast that they possess the Spirit without and before the Word and who therefore judge, interpret, and twist the Scriptures or spoken Word according to their pleasure. [Thomas] Münzer did this, and many still do it in our day who wish to distinguish sharply between the letter and the spirit without knowing what they say or teach. The papacy, too, is nothing but enthusiasm, for the pope boasts that “all laws are in the shrine of his heart,” and he claims that whatever he decides and commands in his churches is spirit and law, even when it is above and contrary to the Scriptures or spoken Word. All this is the old devil and the old serpent who made enthusiasts of Adam and Eve. He led them from the external Word of God to spiritualizing and to their own imaginations, and he did this through other external words. Even so, the enthusiasts of our day condemn the external Word, yet they do not remain silent but fill the world with their chattering and scribbling, as if the Spirit could not come through the Scriptures or the spoken word of the apostles but must come through their own writings and words. Why do they not stop preaching and writing until the Spirit himself comes to the people without and before their writings since they boast that the Spirit came upon them without the testimony of the Scriptures? (Smalcald Articles III, VIII:3-6, pp. 312-13)

In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism. Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil. (Smalcald Articles III, VIII:9-10, p. 313)

We have explained why we cannot conscientiously agree with our opponents in their defense of the pontifical law of perpetual celibacy. ... They say, first, that it was revealed by God [to St. Cyprian]. Just look at these impudent rascals! They dare to claim divine revelation for the law of perpetual celibacy, though it conflicts with clear passages of Scripture commanding each man to have his own wife because of the temptation to immorality (I Cor. 7:2) and forbidding the dissolution of existing marriages (Matt. 19:6). Paul points out the real author of such a law when he calls it a “doctrine of demons” (I Tim. 4:1). (Apology XXIV: 60,63, pp. 247-48)

...evil spirits have introduced the knavery of appearing as spirits of the departed and, with unspeakable lies and cunning, of demanding Masses, vigils, pilgrimages, and other alms. We had to accept all these things as articles of faith and had to live according to them. (Smalcald Articles II, II:16-17, pp. 295-96)

Upon being justified, the Corinthians received many excellent gifts. As usual, their zeal was very fervent in the beginning. Then dissensions arose among them and, as Paul indicates, they began to dislike good teachers. Paul scolds them for this and calls them back to the duties of love. [cf. I Cor. 12-14] (Apology IV:224, p. 138)

Paul prescribed that in church a language should be used which is understood by the people. [cf. I Cor. 14:2,9] (Augsburg Confession XXIV:4 [Latin], p. 56)

...bishops or pastors may make regulations so that everything in the churches is done in good order... So St. Paul directed in I Cor. 11:5 that women should cover their heads in the assembly. He also directed that in the assembly preachers should not all speak at once, but one after another, in order. [cf. I Cor. 14:30] (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:53-54 [German], p. 90)


The question has often been asked whether divine revelations pertaining to external events in Church or world might not be given to individual persons in our time. It does not contradict Scripture to admit the possibility and fact of such revelations. [Examples in Scripture (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11). In church history: John Hilten’s prophecy of the coming of Luther (Trigl. 419, 1-4). It is added: “The outcome will teach how much weight should be given to this declaration.”] But it is contrary to Scripture to assume that new revelations on doctrine will be given; the revelation of doctrine has come to an end with the Word of the Apostles and Prophets. [Quenstedt says on this score (I, 75): “We must distinguish between revelations which pertain to, or attack, an article of faith, and those which concern the state of the Church or the State, social life, and future events; the first we repudiate; the latter, however, some hold, are not to be urged with any necessity of believing, nevertheless are not to be rashly rejected. B. Balduin says in his Commentary on 1 Tim. 4, P. I, q. 1: ‘We do not doubt that God to this day at times reveals to some men future things pertaining to the state of the Church or the State, to be announced for the use of men.’”] (Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950], p. 211)

Whatever God wills He accomplishes in one of two ways: either by His appointed means (causae secundae, potentia ordinata) or without them (potentia absoluta, immediata). In either case, however, the one and self-same divine power is operative. The same divine omnipotence is at work when God according to His established order sustains life by food and drink or immediately, as He sustained Moses for forty days without meat or drink (Ex. 34:28). “Thou feedest us from year to year.” All those works which God performs without employing the usual means (causae secundae) are defined in Scriptures as miracles (John 2:11: shmeia; Acts 2:43: terata kai shmeia). Two points must be observed in considering miracles: 1) God is not bound to observe the distinction between potentia absoluta and ordinata; in other words, He can do without means what He ordinarily does through means (Ex. 34:28). God is above the laws of nature and can therefore dispense with them at will, as Christ teaches: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Strictly speaking, there are no immutably fixed laws of nature. They exist only in the foolish minds of mechanistic philosophers and evolutionistic theorizers. In reality the laws of nature are nothing more than the will of God as applied to the creature. 2) God has bound us to the appointed means. We shall leave the performance of miracles to God. Of course, there is a miracleworking faith (Wunderglaube, fides heroica, Matt. 17:20; 21:21; 1 Cor. 12:1, 10) which is not bound to rules. He that has this gift knows when to use it. (Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, pp. 459-60)

“What distinction should we make in our prayers? When praying for spiritual blessings, necessary for our salvation, we should ask unconditionally; when praying for other gifts, we should ask that God grant them to us if it be His will.” (Dietrich’s Catechism, qus. 348, 349). This is correct because the grace of God, that is, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, is guaranteed to us under all circumstances by the divine will and promise. We learn this from 2 Cor. 12:9. The Lord refused to relieve Paul of his heavy cross and instead pointed to His never-failing grace as all-sufficient: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” There are cases in which Christians have asked unconditionally for temporal blessings, as, for example, when Luther [in 1540] prayed unconditionally for the prolongation of Melanchthon’s life. Luther himself says: “There our Lord God had to give in to me; for I threw down the sack before His door and rubbed into His ears all His promises that He would hear prayer which I could enumerate from Scripture, saying that He would have to hear me if I were to trust His promises.” But such cases belong to the domain of the fides heroica and are not subject to the general rule. It is the business of the Holy Spirit to direct the prayer of the individual Christian in special, exceptional circumstances. Who will dare to circumscribe His power? [... Quenstedt: “There are extant heroic examples of prayers of certain men who were impelled by divine zeal; those examples are not rashly to be imitated” (II, 1439). As illustration Quenstedt refers to Elisha’s prayer against the children of Bethel (2 Kings 2:23-24).] (Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953], pp. 82-83)

Filled with fear, [Luther] said: “O God, how the devil has shattered this instrument for me!” Then the faithful and manly friend approached his God in prayer for his much beloved friend, by throwing, as he, himself afterwards said, “the sack before the door, and by rubbing his ears with all the promises from His own word.” He exhorted and commanded Melanchthon to be of good cheer, because God did not desire the death of the sinner, but needed further services from him; told him that he himself would rather depart now; had food prepared for him when he was gradually becoming convalescent, and upon his refusal to eat, threatened: “You will have to eat, or I will put you in the ban.” Gradually the patient improved in body and spirit. Luther could write to another friend: “We found him dead; by an undeniable miracle of God he lives.” (Julius Köstlin, Life of Luther [Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1883], p. 440)

I eat like a Bohemian and drink like a German; thanks be to God for this. Amen. The reason for this is that Master Philip truly had been dead, and really, like Lazarus, has risen from death. God, the dear father, listens to our prayers. This we [can] see and touch [with our hands], yet we still do not believe it. No one should say Amen to such disgraceful unbelief of ours. (Martin Luther, Letter to Mrs. Martin Luther, July 2, 1540, Luther’s Works, Vol. 50 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975], pp. 208-09)

In 1540 Luther’s good friend Frederick Myconius became deathly sick. He himself expected to die within a short time. One night he wrote with trembling hand a fond farewell to Luther, whom he loved very much. When Luther received the letter, he immediately sent back the following reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church. ... The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” Myconius had already lost the faculty of speech when Luther’s letter came – yet in a short time he was well again. And, true enough, survived Luther by two months! (Ole Hallesby, Prayer [updated edition] [Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 1994], pp. 132-33)

Luther Praying for Melanchthon

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