I was in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 2008. They have a lovely campus over there, and the students and faculty were even more so. I took many walks around the campus admiring the greenery and the birds. The memory I left with, however, was that of many sign boards promoting an anti-occultism campaign.
While I was intrigued to find such an open, frank approach to the problem, I was not ignorant of the severity of the problem. In Ghana I have never seen such signs anywhere, but have not been naive enough to interpret that as an absence of occultism or spiritualism in a more general sense.
We are often taken aback by stories of witchcraft and wizardry, and every now and then a newspaper publishes that a witch had a flight accident and crash-landed into the matrimonial bed of a sleeping couple. The bizarre seems to be what stands out, what captivates. However, in times like these, the keen Bible student will see spiritualism in many more areas of life than are generally reckoned. Indeed, the keen Bible student will see it in its most sinister form, the form which is perhaps most fearful, and which is the subject of this brief discussion.
The Bible says, friends, that in the last days there will arise false Christs and false prophets, who will perform great miracles to the effect that if it were possible, the chosen ones of God would be deceived (Matthew 24:24). Unfortunately many are not heeding this warning. What is the message? What is the point the Saviour is carrying across?
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover – Mark 16:17-18
Clearly, then, the miraculous is an accompanying feature of the ministry of a Christian, and a servant of God. Christ expressly intimates that the miraculous will attend the work of His servants. This is key. The trouble is not that the point has been neglected, but that it has been utterly misconstrued. How so??
Unfortunately many today take Christ’s words to mean that the defining or identifying characteristic of an authentic prophet is to be found in the performance of great signs and wonders, and in the speaking of new tongues, and in the miraculous immunity from poisons.
But is this what Christ meant? Or did He mean that He would aid the work of His followers with the spiritual assistance they will require? I submit that the latter is the case, and further stress that the promise extends to us in this last generation, confirmed by the Saviours own word in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), when He promised to be with us to the end of the World, which end we are to work tirelessly towards.
But can this position be substantiated? How do we know that Mark 16:17-18 do not describe the defining characteristics of genuine Christianity? Well the earlier verse we saw settles the matter (Matthew 24:24). False prophets can also produce miracles.
The second way we know is that Christ unambiguously declares the defining characteristics of His children in John 13:35, when He declares that we should love each other as He has loved us, by which love it shall be known that we are indeed His disciples. That’s it. Love is the defining characteristic of the disciples of Christ, not miracles, which are but necessary accompaniments to the work that these authentic disciples must do upon the Earth. Is this vague? Can “love” be variously and ambiguously interpreted?
Well, not if one gets their advice from the Scriptures. Love for man can only be true if it springs from a heart that first loves its Maker, and love for one’s Maker is easy to prove. John 14:15 says that If we love Him, we will keep his commandments. Pure and simple. As we say in Ghana, “No curve, no bend.”
The prophet Isaiah beautifies the point most appropriately: “To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.” – Isaiah 8:20
The apostle John reiterates: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” – Revelation 12:14
If a prophet looks away from the commandments of God, teaching that they have somehow been obliterated by the atoning sacrifice of our Lord, then they fail the test of Biblical authenticity. It’s that simple. Love is the fulfilment of this law, and is demonstrated by obedience to it. To deny this law then is to assault the every foundation of love.
But why have we spent so much time on making this distinction? Well because most of the spiritualism in the church today (the sinister form we talked about), comes from such false prophets: people who utterly repudiate the Divine law yet (and most ironically) make the loudest claims to piety. Their leadership is a smear on Christian mission, and they are at the very root of the reason why many in the world today have turned their ears from the pleadings of God’s true missionaries. They pervert the gospel by removing the power of its effect: holiness, and subvert the work of true disciples by setting shameful examples of worldliness and extravagance, at the heads of large congregations of the poorest of the poor. Their leadership is capable of no more than the gospel of power that has become such a key feature of their work. If they will not find legitimacy in the clear testable words of Scripture, then many of them have resolved to find it in undeniable manifestations of spiritual power, thus the increasing spate of spiritualism over spirituality, and thus the seeming preference of the contemporary Christian world for the gospel of power to the power of the Gospel.
The Gospel of Power
While much of the Christian world is getting swayed by this unfortunate trend, it must be noted that the problem has come to the attentions of many noteworthy ministers of the Gospel. Discussions on the subject are ever more frequent, and there is enough light shed upon the issue for the truly penitent soul to be nourished by. However, not one of these makes the case for true worship and discipleship better than the Bible.
We will consider a few of the principles and presumptions behind this growing sinister movement and test their Biblical validity, and using the Bible, point the way to a better, straiter, narrower path.
Come and let Me Pray for You
Prayer is the water where Bible study is the food for a Christian. Prayer is therefore to be encouraged whenever and wherever possible. While intercessory prayer is potent and effective, even encouraged by our Lord Jesus Christ, it can also be a source, when emphasised to the neglect and detriment of personal communion with God, of dependence and personal weakness.
I was in a vehicle recently, commuting to work. While the driver waited for his car to be boarded, he conversed with a man about a health condition they both suffered. While they did not name it, I deduced it was hypertension, as they repeatedly made reference to ‘bringing it down’. The other man was advising constant and religious adherence to medication, while the driver could only go on and on about how miserable the condition is, and how he had recently been made as weak as a child by it. Then he added: “Some pastor says he can cure it.”
“What?” was the quizzical response of his interlocutor.
“I said some pastor says he can cure it. And you know, when these things happen, better to go and give it a try. You already have the disease, so nothing to lose. This may just be an opportunity for your deliverance. You never know.”
There wasn’t much of a response, and we soon took off. I cite this scenario only to make the point that as Christians, it is not pastors who can cure diseases (if indeed they can) that we should be searching out and running to, but He who can not only heal all our diseases, but even more, save our souls. It is the life giving Saviour, we should seek out, not mortal men. There is never insufficient power in the prayer of an honest, God fearing heart to save or to redeem or to heal. There is never inadequate strength for the voice of the weakest child of the King to ascend to His Heavenly throne and reach the audience of the Heavenly courts.
“A pastor says he can cure it,” he said. Any real pastor would have known and intimated that it is God who heals and saves. Any real pastor would know their lowly position as a vessel in relation to the infinitely exalted station of the Master. Any real pastor would know to exhort their congregations to exercise the tremendous power that Christ has bestowed upon each of us, to come boldly before the throne of grace, to find mercy and grace in the time of our need (Hebrews 4:16).
By all means, let the Pastors and elders pray for you, but more frequently, more ardently, more fervently, more urgently, pray for yourself: We require no proxy to reach the Lord.
The minute a human being is given the station of one who possesses some personal ability to perform any sort of miracle, spiritualism is at play. Of course, many will claim to acknowledge that the power of today’s apostles and prophets comes not from them but from God. If this were true how much more quickly would they run to the very Source of the power, than to these mortals, and how much more certain would be the redemption of these, from whom the Lord will demand nothing but repentance and righteousness, ass opposed to doles of cash and other emoluments.
No Tongues, no Christian
In the charismatic movement, and increasingly in orthodox Christian circles, spiritualism is dictating doctrines that take their root from outside the Scriptures, such as that the gift of tongues is the mark of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the sign of the true Christian, and that without it, one has not received the Holy Spirit.
Without going into the extensive theology of the gift of tongues (see On Supposed Revelations from Hell for such), let us point out what the Spirit expressly says in His word.
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort – 1 Corinthians 14:1-4.
Clearly, if any gift is preferable or superior in any way, it is that of prophecy, rather than of speaking in tongues. In fact, in the rendition given of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 , the gift of tongues is the last mentioned:
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues – 1 Corinthians 12:7-10.
How ironic that men have turned the list upside down and given it undue supreme prominence. Why? Because the devil can more easily deceive with his own counterfeit gift than with the plain, unbridled word of God.
The Spirits of the Dead
It may seem strange that this comes up, given that Scripture very clearly and particularly teaches that the dead know not anything (Ecclesiastes 9:5). It is however widely believed in Christendom today that the dead are alive, and are either burning in hell perpetually or are praising God in Heaven.
For a more comprehensive discussion on the state of the dead, please see A Few Points on the Gift of Tongues Suffice it to say for now, that this belief is at the root of the increasingly popular emergence of clairvoyance in the church. Clairvoyance is the act of supposedly talking to the dead.
The dead are exactly that – dead. Even well known Bible verses like John 3:16 emphasise the point that eternal life is only for those who believe. Romans 6:23 restates this and emphasises that everyone else suffers death. Death is death. Ecclesiastes 9:6 shows:
Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
That’s right, people. They cannot give visions, appear to relatives, or anyone else for that matter, or participate in anything under the sun among the living. Theirs is to wait for the coming judgement of the Lord:
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished – 1 Peter 2:9
You will go! – I won’t go. – You will go! – I won’t go.
Exorcism is an important work. It entails the expulsion of a demonic presence from the life of an individual. It requires the effective, fervent prayer of righteous children and servants of God.
In this area, as in all others, the example of Christ becomes the rule of thumb for the genuine Christian. Many times Christ cast out demons. Every single time, it was with a command, and every single time the demons responded with obedience. This is how it should be.
There are stronger demons than others, as the disciples found once while attempting to exorcise a demon from a young boy (Matthew 17). The Lord advised that that kind of demon could only be expelled with fasting and prayer.
This is how we can expel even the strongest and stubbornest of the enemy’s agents.
Instead, however, many have replaced “fasting and prayers” with long, loud and rancorous tugs of war.
Some have entered physical battles with supposedly possessed people, exchanging slaps and insults and worse. If the idea is to fight demons out of people by fist and fury, then the idea has been lost.
The name of the One in Whom we come is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. It is a name that imparts the authority with which we can issue a simple command, as Paul did to the demon in the woman in Macedonia: ...But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour – Acts 16:18.
When exorcism descends from this to a huff and puff affair, then the exorcist lacks the authority and credibility of one who comes in the name of the Lord, and either unpreparedness or deception is at play. In the latter case, we are dealing with spiritualism, orchestrated by those who employ the most sinister means to deceive the elect by means of signs and wonders. Let all that are Christ’s beware.
There are many areas in which the genuine has become corrupted, and in which men will have us believe that the demonstration of supernatural accomplishments must procure them our followership, but we must follow none but the Lord.
Always remember, that the Bible is the surest defense against their sophistries. Be reminded, that in the last days “...there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24), and that the greatest testimony that we are in Christ, is not that we possess the gift of tongues or healing or even prophecy, but that we have love one to another (John 13:35, John 15:14, John 14:15).
Let us test the spirits, whether they be of God, and test the prophets by whom they speak (Isaiah 8:20, Revelation 14:12, 1 John 4:1-3).
As always, Maranatha.