I attended a lecture on Monday evening on the subject of manipulative, radical Christian sects and churches. The lecturer was expert Terho Miettinen, author of Harhaan johtajat, or ”Misleading Leaders”. He described how certain preachers, with great gifts of charisma and using various dubious techniques, get away with all kinds of things: their followers are exploited, manipulated, cheated of their money and even sexually abused. This often dishonest and sometimes criminal activity often goes unpunished, as the sect closes ranks around their leader in order to protect him/her from the authorities, and the victims are bullied into silence.
Of course dishonest or criminal behaviour is to be condemned, and most non-mainstream Christian movements are led by decent, devout, genuine Christians. Some elements of their worship are certainly unfamiliar and rather exotic to Lutherans: loudly proclaiming one’s sinfulness and repentance in front of hundreds of people, speaking in tongues, prophecying, falling in a faint when the preacher touches them, and so on. Most dramatic of all is the phenomenon of miraculous healing. Some members of the church are believed to have the power of healing mentioned in the New Testament; by laying hands on a faithful sufferer, they can seemingly cure him or her. According to Miettinen, there is no scientific, documented evidence for such cures.
This left me pondering what Lutherans and other mainstream Christians think of such phenomena. Care there ordinary people who can prophecy under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or cure people by the miraculous touch of their hands? The biggest mainstream Church of them all, the Catholic Church, as well as the Orthodox Church, attaches great importance to the miraculous role of the saints. Many saints are said to have had healing powers, especially after their death. One of the criteria the Catholic Church uses to assess whether a candidate for sainthood, such as Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul II, should be canonised is whether anyone who has prayed to them has been miraculously cured. The Vatican examines cases of miraculous cures very thoroughly, rejecting most of them, but confirming some. Therefore they believe in miraculous healing, although of a somewhat different variety to the miraculous healing I described earlier.
I will end this somewhat disorganised essay with no answers, but some questions instead. Do you believe in the miracles performed by Jesus? Do you believe in the miracles of the Old Testament? Do you believe in the miracles performed by the Apostles? Do you believe in miraculous cures brought about by praying to a saint? And do you believe in miracles performed by people today, such as at Pentecostal church meetings? It is a big subject, but definitely one that every Christian should ponder.