Faith in Faith versus Faith in Christ

“Conventional wisdom,” the actual publica doctrina of the public is that a positive attitude toward illness helps in terms of survival and reoccurrence.  “Just believing” helps.  It is my contention not only that it doesn’t help physically but it hurts spiritually.

Actually in regard to the physical it’s not my contention alone.  The New England Journal of Medicine began a study in 1982 to test the claims of those saying there was power, or at least healing and health, in positive thinking.  They released that study in June of 1985.  Time magazine reported on it in their June 24, 1985 issue in an article entitled “Medicine: Can Attitudes Affect Cancer?”  You can read it in toto here:,9171,959465,00.html The following two quotes summarize the findings.

“…the researchers could find no relationship between attitude and either the survival or recurrence rate. In general, the more cheerful patients showed no greater capacity than the depressed ones for fighting their cancers, and the pessimists were at no greater risk of death or recurrence than the optimists. Concluded the report: ‘Our study . . . suggests that the inherent biology of the disease alone determines the prognosis, overriding the potentially mitigating influence of psychosocial factors.’”

“…it also questioned the effectiveness of positive thinking in fighting any disease. Medical literature, wrote Angell, ‘contains very few scientifically sound studies of the relation, if there is one, between mental state and disease . . . It is time to acknowledge that our belief in disease as a direct reflection of mental state is largely folklore.’”

An objectless faith, i.e. one that has no Word of God (audible or visible) on which it can hang it’s hat is wretched, yet this is what most people think of when they think of faith.  Edward Plass defended Luther’s refusal to recognize fellowship with Zwingli at Marburg over against the church historian Philip Schaff who said, “’There are not a few Lutherans who have more liking for Luther’s faults than for his virtues and admire his conduct at Marburg as much, if not more, than his conduct at Worms.’”  Plass rebutted by saying the principle Luther contended for was the same both places.  “A faith without a God-given object is just as reprehensible as a God-given object without faith.”  (This is Luther, 177)  Rome had faith in her teachings above God’s Word; Zwingli believed the Lord’s Supper was what he thought it was rather than what Jesus said it was.

Now lets go deeper into the weeds.  How many LCMS people and even pastors in funeral sermons have you heard say, “I know he was saved or in heaven because he believed.”  “Just believing” saved him in the same way others claim “just believing” healed them.

Still doesn’t seem like that big of a deal? Here’s a quote from Luther’s Explanation of the 95 Theses: “Learn at least, dear reader, whether they [Roman Catholic preachers] do not by their pestilential preaching make people believe that salvation and the true grace of God depend upon indulgences” (AE, 31, 207).  Now replace the last word “indulgences” with the word “faith.”  Can you see that preaching an objectless “faith” is to preach despair because everything depends on your believing?  Luther saw it and you should be able to as well even with no word changes.  Luther said, “May every single sermon be forever damned which persuades a person to find security and trust in or through anything whatever except the pure mercy of God, which is Christ” (Ibid., 309).

If you stayed with me this long, here is where the payoff comes.  This is worth the cost of the read, and why I wrote the blog in the first place.  Martin Chemnitz in his Loci Theologici says that as long as faith “clings to the true object…spiritual struggles, whether in the area of assent or in desire or in trust, are not signs of unbelief, but true marks of living and efficacious faith” (II, 503).  This is not true when talking about an objectless faith.  Then everything rides on how much or how firm your assent, desire, or trust is.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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