By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
My interest in the theological issue of spiritism accelerated like a rocket when I realized the titanic With the American spiritual landscape littered with the rubbish of all manner of crazy ideas and beliefs, it has the dubious distinction of being the arch-heterodox belief of the day…that is my opinion and I am prepared to defend that sentiment.
The first argument is simple but profound: fifty percent of Americans now believe in trapped spirits. HALF—ONE OUT OF EVERY TWO!—OF THE POPULATION HAS EMBRACED THIS ERROR…HIGHER WITH THE YOUNGER CROWD…AND GROWING FAST EVERY DAY. No need to drone on here, but what other specific belief error comes anywhere near that quantity of people? Number of people affected should certainly be considered when determining if an issue merits being called a crucial issue, should it not? Spiritism is a crucial issue which must be passionately addressed because more people have embraced this erroneous belief than any other heterodox belief.
Certainly one can believe in ghosts and still be saved, because Scripture clearly teaches justification by faith alone (Rom. 4; 5:1) However, the ability to discern the relative importance of theological/spiritual beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. The relative importance of certain issues/beliefs can fall within four categories. 1. Absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith…what one must believe to be saved (the belief in absolute truth is a distinct issue); 2. Convictions, while not core beliefs, usually have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church and individuals; 3. Opinions, are less clear issues and are usually not worthy of dividing over; 4. Questions are issues which are currently unsettled. These criteria, and the seven below, are designed to help sort through the myriad of issues we face by categorizing them into four distinct levels of seriousness…hope they will help you in the future with thinking through the significance of other issues as well.
Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations: 1. Biblical clarity; 2. Relevance to the character of God; 3. Relevance to the essence of the gospel; 4. Biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught and what weight Scripture places upon it); 5. Effect on other doctrines; 6. Consensus among Christians (past and present); 7. Effect on personal and church life…all the categories should be considered collectively in determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues. (pg. 2502 ESV Study Bible, emp. added)
In a sense, the main goal of my book is to provide the cumulative evidence (mentioned above and other) to argue that the issue of trapped spirits lies within the realm of convictions—see above for distinctiveness of four categories of issues…#2. While a biblically accurate belief regarding spiritism is not a core/absolute issue (not necessary for salvation…belief in the deity of Christ is an example of a belief that is a core issue), it is an exceedingly important conviction or teaching of the bible. Belief in ghosts, and attempting communication with them, can do serious damage to the church and to an individual’s spirituality. I should hasten to add, it IS doing serious damage right now. Let us look at the relative importance the bible gives to this issue, and the ramifications for the spiritual and emotional health of people by looking at these seven points.
1. Biblical clarity—using accepted principles of hermeneutics, Deuteronomy 18:9-14 and Leviticus 20:6-8, 27 are they key texts relative to communication with the dead (this is a distinct issue which is beyond the scope of this newsletter, but I devoted an entire article on this), and they are clear and explicit regarding the exceptional wickedness of spiritism. God as Judge used Israel as executioner of the Canaanites due to the latter’s occult practices which included spiritism. The land had become so defiled by this and other occult practices that it was vomiting them out. As I mentioned, using sound interpretive principles, it is abundantly clear that these texts have priority over all other “ghost” related texts. Then, when we look at these texts, we see that they are transgenerational in their authority. As far as biblical clarity, these texts are as clear as clear can get. There should be no debate if you under Christ’s Lordship. Remember that Jesus Himself quoted from Deut. three times when countering Satan’s climactic temptations in the wilderness.
2. Relevance to the character of God—the notion of ghosts casts a shadow over God’s omnipotence, and goodness (actually ALL the attributes of God are frontally assaulted by this notion)…what kind of God would leave deceased babies here as spirit babies? That “God” would be Satan-like. Spritism implies that the Lord is not sovereign over His creation—a godlette or McGod. “They died so quickly their souls got stuck here.” Are we to believe that manner of death can snatch believers out of God’s hands? God forbid! I could go on and on here…
3. Relevance on the essence of the gospel—the perfection of the Person and work of Christ is seriously undermined and impugned if we believe that some people get trapped when they die. What are we saved from, if death is NOT a doorway to heaven? A McSalvation at best. While it does not utterly ruin the atonement, as denial of the deity of Christ does, it comes perilously close to it. Was Jesus’s salvation perfectly efficacious or not? Is Jesus the Son of Man, the conquering Warrior over evil and death, or not? Is it good news to believe that God’s blood was shed, only to wake up in the front porch to hell?
4. Frequency and weight—while spiritism is not mentioned often in the bible, where it is mentioned, the utmost weight or gravity is placed upon this issue (see 1 above).
5. Effect on other doctrines—pull out a book on bible doctrine and you will see how EVERY doctrine is undermined by the notion of people getting trapped here. For example, the biblical doctrine of hope is hopelessly destroyed by this belief. Hope is certainty regarding our future glory—how can one enjoy this basic fruit of the atonement when the fearful prospect of possibly being trapped here is hanging over our heads? Hope is not only an important biblical doctrine, but it is also crucial for a healthy emotional state. Another example is the believers union with Christ—we are in Christ, and indissolubly united with the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. We are already in heaven with Jesus, in a very real sense (Col.3:3). Our union with Jesus is unbreakable, and it is the hub from which all other spiritual blessings flow. What does it say about that union, if we can be separated from Christ indefinitely in a paranormal gutter-world…Satan’s home turf? The same corrosive effects occur to many other biblical doctrines. Please check it out for yourself….it may cast a whole new light on this discussion.
6. The consensus of Christians (past and present)—from the early church fathers who railed against the same pagan Gnosticism as we do today, up until today, the monolithic consensus of the doctors of the church has been that death ushers everyone immediately into their eternal destiny. I do not know of a single judicious theologian, in 2,000 years of church history, who has believed in ghosts—death has always been seen as certain entry into either eternal life or eternal death. Are we so foolish to ignore their collective wisdom?
7. Effect on personal and church life—how can you live with joy inexpressible when you are speaking to demons, and are being demonically oppressed? Because the spirit realm is the God ordained temporary home of most of the fallen angels (rest already in hell), then when people summon spirits they immediately find themselves playing in Satan’s sandbox…and they are trespassing, which gives the demonic legal right to attach and attack. Since the notion of ghosts is so hostile to all that we call holy, then belief/speaking to the dead seriously undermines the stability of a Christian’s spiritual foundation—like a three legged table, it would not take much a “bump” to cause them to crash. As I mentioned, this belief is extremely corrosive to all it comes in contact with—other orthodox beliefs held side-by-side with it, will tend to be affected by it, and not vice versa. Kind of like when a Christian marries a non-Christian, the latter tends to pull the Christian down…having a corrosive effect on their spirituality.