Modern Medicine and Science: Today’s Sorcery

Let me make this clear right off the bat.  Obviously all things are pure to the pure, just as Paul says to Titus (Titus 1:15).  There are many God fearing Christians who serve as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and scientists.  But let’s not forget the other thing St. Paul says to Titus.  He says, “but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”  He then goes on to say that they are incapable of doing anything good.

It is with this in mind that I bring up modern medicine and science being today’s sorcery.  This came to me while reading one of the comments under Pastor Rojas’ post on closed communion.  The reader commenting gave an analogy of a pharmacist practicing open medicine in which he gives out any medicine anyone who wants it.  This is comparable to a pastor giving the Lord’s body and blood to anyone who wants it and claims to love and believe in Jesus.

That analogy only works if you assume that God exists and that his Sacraments actually contain his divine power.  It only works if you actually believe that some got sick and even died because they ate the body and blood of Jesus while not agreeing with the others gathered (1 Cor 11:18, 30).  How many people will hear this analogy, then scoff and think, “That’s not a fair comparison!”  Why not?  Because a pharmacist is a steward of things with real power?  This is precisely the issue.

The reader’s analogy really nails it. Because the fact is that people literally believe that a pharmacist wields more power than a steward of the mysteries of God. This is what our reason assumes, after all. The steward of the mysteries is only there to affirm the people in what they already think they know. It’s in this way that science and medicine become a sort of witchcraft. It’s what people truly rely on. It’s what truly makes people tremble and silently listen. Of course I’m not attacking pharmacists per se, many of whom are God fearing Christians. But it is interesting that the term “sorcery” is from the Greek “pharmakeia, (Gal 5:20)” and “sorcerer” is from the Greek “pharmakos. (Rev 22:15)”  In fact, Plutarch uses “pharmakeia” to describe the practice of using poison to cause an abortion or prevent pregnancy (Plutarch, Romulus 22:3).  A false god is made thus in the heart of man, as Jesus says (Matt 6:21), “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”  And modern medicine has become such a treasure.  It has become a false god making people tremble, hope, and trust more than anything else.

But we should fear, love, trust, and hope in God instead (Matt 10:28).  This must be the beginning of understanding any theological issue.  The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  When we fear anything else more than God then we have used the best things in the worst ways.  We have resorted to sorcery and witchcraft.  To think that your pharmacist or doctor can give you better news than your pastor is to put yourself in the company of Ahaz who thought that the Assyrians or gods of Damascus could give him better news than the sign he refused to heed from Isaiah, “Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call his name Immanuel. (Is 7:14; cf. 2 Chron 28; 2 Kings 16:5ff.)”

Ahaz’s sorcery

Those who practice sorcery are not those who are strange and uncouth.  It made sense for Ahaz to sacrifice to Baal and the gods of Damascus.  It made sense for him to appeal to the king of Assyria.  This was simply the way of human reason, which fancies itself more practical than God’s promises.  Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria were coming against Judah.  The last thing Ahaz needed at that time, so thought his reason, was some promise of a Virgin birth, which wouldn’t take place for roughly another seven hundred and twenty years.  What Ahaz needed right then and there was some medicine.  He saw how the gods of Damascus were working out for the Syrians.  And if that pill didn’t work, he had a backup dose of Assyrian appeasement.  He had it all figured out.

But this was all sorcery.  It was all witchcraft.  This is because Ahaz didn’t believe that God is powerful to save and keep his promises.  He didn’t actually believe God’s Word.  The Assyrian Rabshakeh’s mockery of God’s Word during the reign of Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son, would have resonated with Ahaz.  The Rabshakeh called God’s Word “vain words. (2 King 18:20; Is 36:5).”  This is the source of sorcery.  It is unbelief.  And unbelief in God’s Word is simply faith in something else.

The Lord’s Supper is more sacred than the Ark of the Covenant itself, which made people die when they touched it unauthorized (2 Sam 6:7; 1 Chron 13:10).  The new testament gives life to those who trust Jesus’ words.  It does this precisely because it gives the body and blood of Jesus whereby he made full satisfaction to God’s justice and turned away God’s wrath.  When we let anyone commune based on a two or three question survey, it not only shows how little we value unity in doctrine and confession.  It also shows how powerless we actually see the Word and sacraments to be.

This is not to say that people render them completely powerless.  There is a big push for emotional healing, spiritual healing, or whatever you want to call it.  This has nothing to do with terrified consciences trembling at God’s Word wanting the assurance of the Lord’s body and blood for forgiveness and salvation.  We might think it does.  We might even put down as one of the three questions, “Are you sorry for your sins?”  But if people want the Lord’s Supper without learning and submitting to the doctrine our churches teach from Scripture, then they really couldn’t care less about God’s wrath against sin.  “Am I sorry for my sins?  Sure, why not?”  If they are not interested in attending a church that teaches God’s Word faithfully, then whether they are sorry for their sins is truly meaningless.  It’s like asking someone, “Do you admit that you’re not perfect?”  Most people won’t have a problem with that.

So why would they come to the Lord’s Supper if they don’t really care about God’s Word, and they don’t fear God’s wrath against sin?  It’s because they want healing.  Something is stressing them out.  Or they need balance.  It goes without question that the pharmacist has the real power in his pills.  But these people are open minded to more holistic and “spiritual” kinds of healing.  Their religion tells them that they just need inner peace.  This isn’t peace with a God who is justly angry with sin.  Rather, it’s simply a sense of calm they get when a Priest, Levite, or other religious figure blesses all of their own household gods.  They are even willing to put up a good fight to have access to such spiritual services!  Check out Micah and the Danites as they fought over a Levite (Judges 17 and 18).  But they didn’t only fight over the Levite.  They also fought over the idols, which the Levite was supposed to bless.  Again, this is because they want healing.  They want peace.  So while the servant of God serves a purpose in their eyes, he does so no more than a dog they can pet.

Danites stealing Micah’s priest and idols.

God has richly blessed us with modern medicine and science.  But believing that true power is found in the works and inventions of men is nothing short of sorcery.  And we can say this for other sciences as well.  God blesses us with various stations in life, in the home, with fellow servants and employers, in the church, and under all earthly authority.  He gives us opportunities to confess his Word, relying on the power of his Word to accomplish what he says it will accomplish.  But leave it to the religion of human reason to depend on sociology and other human schemes as driving forces or “bridges” we winsomely create for God’s Word.  Such things should creep us out as a sort of updated voodoo.

But the true power of God is in the gospel (Rom 1:16).  This is because it does not simply give us earthly, emotional comfort like a fluffy puppy might give to some, but it gives us something objective.  It gives the righteousness of Christ, which turned away the burning wrath of God.  Now that is real power!  May God grant us faithful stewards of such mysteries!

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have four children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, and Robert.


Modern Medicine and Science: Today’s Sorcery — 11 Comments

  1. Man, this is a good article! Very well written, Andrew! This article alone should be published and bound with a hard cover. Although, I’m sure you could expand to fill more pages. What helpful insights!

  2. This is great. Excellent article. It complements Rev. Rojas’s article above. And the point is basically the same. Between the two, we have a timely explanation of the first table of the law with specific application to the current issue of open vs. closed communion. I strongly recommend reading them in the order in which they were written.

  3. What a fantastic article. You nail the heart of the problem here: “Because the fact is that people literally believe that a pharmacist wields more power than a steward of the mysteries of God.”

    The reason unfaithful pastors commune people regardless of their faith is because they themselves don’t have faith in the words of Christ: “This is My Body.” Why would the pastor care if people have faith in the words of Christ if he himself doesn’t even believe them??? Amazing article.

  4. This is probably one of the most poorly written articles I have ever read. It misinterprets Scripture and maligns doctors and pharmacists and lacks logic.

    In Titus 1:15 Paul is condemning false teachers who, even though they profess to know God, their works betray them.. Thus, they can do nothing good in a spiritual sense. He is not talking about unbelievers discharging their vocations in the secular world. To apply Paul’s words to unbelievers discharging their vocations in the secular world is a non sequitur.

    In this sense, then, you wish to bring up “medicine and science being today’s sorcery.” This is just nonsense in the sense it does not make sense.

    The clue to it being “sorcery” hangs on your presentation of the word “pharmacy.” The etymology of the word indeed goes back to the ancient Greeks who used it for “sorcery”or the practice of making poison. The etymology of “pharmacy,” however, has nothing to do with today’s practice of pharmacy. While you say, “I’m not attacking pharmacists per se, many of whom are God fearing Christians,” that’s exactly what you are doing when you equate pharmacy with sorcery.

    You write, “God has richly blessed us with modern medicine and science. But believing that true power is found in the works and inventions of men is nothing short of sorcery. And we can say this for other sciences as well.” The true power of which you are speaking is the forgiveness of sins mediated by the Gospel. However, modern medicine and pharmaceutical science doesn’t address the forgiveness of sins. Thus, you have set up a straw man.

    I haven’t found many people who have made medicine or pharmacy their god, but I have met plenty of people who do not believe in evidence based medicine and place their trust in alternative medicine and remedies. For example, think of Steve Jobs (by the way, an example of the failure of Lutheran catechetics), who spurned traditional treatments for cancer, took alternative medicine, and by the time he turned to traditional, evidence based medicine it was too late and he died.

    I have no problem with close communion. Please retract you article and just address close communion. Thanks.

  5. Just for the record: There are Christian pharmacists who will not fill prescriptions for “contraceptives” which will cause abortion, even in these days. [They are legally allowed to refuse (at least in the states I know about).]

    They are required by the same law to refer to someone else who will fill the prescription, but you’ll have to take that up with your legislators.

  6. What a great article! We are surrounded by anthropogenic “sorcery” of all kinds, like the hand-held glowing device I use to scry the doings of others at great distances. I especially loved the reference to Judges 17-18.

    1) The improper use of a thing doesn’t nullify the proper use, so

    2) medicine or technology or political associations or any other ordering of creation (Ps 44:6; Jer 17:5 etc) can be rightly used, insofar as they are used in accord with God’s Law and do not supplant faith in God.

    3) We ought not give the impression that medicine/etc has absolutely no use at all. It is given to the theological discipline carefully to distinguish the proper uses of each discipline.

    This is why theology can properly be called the “queen of the sciences.” I’ve found that many theologians are tempted categorically to dismiss entire disciplines or fields of study because they “cannot save.” That’s silly – it’s a matter of specifying means and ends, and finding out where the proper boundaries are.

    4) Even though therapy is not the primary effect or intent of God’s Word, the whole counsel of God does have a therapeutic effect in the believer.

    5) Preaching with primary intent to do therapy (instead of proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins) is putting the cart before the horse, and probably cowardace on the part of a preacher who fears disapproval of the public eye more than the wrath of God.

    6) Only when a man realizes that all therapy inevitably fails, he returns to the ancient question of justice: Why do bad things happen, what is justice, and how can an unjust man be made just?

    Such things deal with transcendent and eternal categories that therapy cannot. Being ignorant of the revelation of the holy God becoming flesh to justify sinful man, the doctor/pharmakos Aristotle came up with about the best therapy the pagans can offer.

    7) To some extent therapy can happen to a man in isolation. However, justification must happen with respect to the Author of justice.

    8) Therefore all public witness of Christians concerning the created order, from the pulpit officially, or in our arrangement of what disciplines properly address what human problems, or even in our daily use of the same, each ought to be done with reference first to Christ the Author and Justifier of sinners.

  7. I know people who spurn doctors and medicine and really solely on their faith for healing. They believe that if they have sufficient faith, then God will heal them. Many years ago a woman died from cancer and left a husband and two young children behind. The deacons in her church would not allow her to seek medical help. Her faith was to heal her.
    Other people I know believe in the “laying on of hands” for healing. Or “praying over a person for healing”. Obviously God is the ultimate physician of soul and body. We can seek medical help for ailments, but ultimately all the doctors and medicine out there can not heal our sinful condition which leads to death. Would faith healing, laying on of hands, and prayers for healing (without seeking any medical help) be considered “putting God to the test”?

  8. @Steven Karp #4

    I just saw your comment. Allow me to respond. You have missed my point entirely. First, I was not making merely an etymological argument about sorcery. I was simply pointing out that the real evil of sorcery back then was unbelief. Those who are more willing to listen to their pharmisist than to their faithful pastor are committing the same sin of sorcery, namely unbelief. Use the pharmisist. I certainly do! But if your attention given to a physical doctor is more attentive than what you give to God’s Word, then this is a serious problem. That’s my point. When someone would never tell his boss he can’t work on Sunday mornings, but would certainly take a leave for a doctor’s visit, then this is sorcery. It is unbelief. You say I set up a straw man, since pharmisists don’t claim to have thw power of the forgiveness of sins. Again, you miss my point. I’m not going after pharmisists. I’m not saying that they claim to have the power of salvation. My point is simply that to the impure nothing is pure. Steve Jobs didn’t believe the gospel. He trusted in holistic healing. That’s witchcraft. Unbelief turns the best things into the worst things.

    I felt compelled to address your comment, simply because I honestly found it to be missing the point of the article. I always make an effort to be as clear as possible. Your argument seems to be based on the premise that Paul’s words only apply to those in the ecclesiastical estate, but not in the others. While it is true that Paul is specifically speaking of false teachers, his general statement, “To the defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure,” can be applied to any station. Paul applying it specifically to false teachers in the church doesn’t exclude it from being applied to other stations. I will not retract it, because what I have written is true.

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