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  • Writer's pictureMatthew L. Tinkham Jr.

An Overlooked Phenomenon


“9 ‘When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this’” (Deut 18:9–14 ESV).


Introduction


Many Christians in the West have a growing concern with the seemingly ever-widening and deepening influence of secularism upon our society. This perturbation has dominated many discussions and debates in US partisan politics as of late. For Christian believers, the big question in mind is this: how will the growth of secular philosophy in government and the populace affect the Christian’s freedom to believe and practice his/her faith, especially those beliefs that contradict the ideologies of the agenda of secularization?


While there is indeed a philosophical trend of secularization in the West from the Enlightenment to contemporary times that should cause Christians to feel unease, I have noticed another concerning phenomenon, of which Christians must be aware. It is spreading like a wildfire among the younger generations of our Western postmodern world. Intriguingly, I personally have heard little to no worriment from Christians over this opposite societal shift because, at first glance, it appears to be a “win” for Christianity. After all, the rise and spread of Christian nationalism in the US can possibly be attributed in part to this new trend.


Societal “Sacralization”

Within the West, I have begun to see a growing disillusionment with the naturalism, skepticism, criticism, nihilism, and subjective foundationalism of secular modernity that has propelled countless persons on a search for real meaning that they did not find in modernism. This search has walked many through the “open door” of pluralism produced by the philosophical turn to postmodernism over the last several decades. Now, with room for everyone at the metaphorical “table” (a core value of postmodernity), religion and spirituality have once again been permitted to “take a seat” where modernism had previously excluded them.


In his chapter titled “Alternative Spiritualities, New Religions, and the Reenchantment of the West” in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, Christopher Partridge has written on this philosophical and societal change. He points out that the Western world is concurrently experiencing a “sacralization” or a “reenchantment” with religion and spirituality that the ubiquitous secularization of modernism has been unable to fully stifle. Perhaps, this is partly because God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Eccl 3:11 NIV), and so, by nature, humans are “hardwired” with a fascination with the supernatural. Whatever the reasons, the postmodern West now exists pluralistically “in the midst of a much more complex process in which” there is both “secularization and sacralization, disenchantment and reenchantment.”1

Initially, this sounds like a good existential crisis that could benefit the Christian religion, resulting in the reopening of churches that previously had closed their doors due to secularization. “Once again, people will flock to know Jesus!” is perhaps the optimistic hope of Christian leaders and clergy. However, in reality, a great multitude of people on the search for meaning who are experiencing this reinvigorated attraction to the supernatural have attempted to fulfill the mystical void of their hearts with all types of unconventional, alternative spiritualities instead of the traditional institutional religion of Christianity. These compose the so-called “spiritual but not religious” group (SBNR), who retain discontentment and likely disgruntlement with conventional Christianity. In other words, while the postmodern “table” is open for all, Christianity, in its traditional institutional forms, continues to be relegated to the “ time-out corner” of the proverbial “dining room.”


As such, the “sacralization” of the West is manifesting itself in the growth of interest among younger generations in what is sometimes characterized as “New Age” and “Eastern” beliefs and practices—such as astrology, zodiac signs, horoscopes, science fiction, transcendental meditation, mindfulness, Yoga, chi, acupuncture, martial arts, prayer labyrinths, chakras and balancing, healing crystals, Wicca, Witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, Neopaganism, channeling, occultism, karma, reincarnation, Baha’i, Santería, charismatic renewal, asceticism, freemasonry, Scientology, animism, pan-/panentheism, process thought, etc. The supernatural beliefs and practices of these and other varieties of alternative spiritualities constitute a motley assortment of types of spiritualism that are dominating popular culture on the “big screen,” in the bookstores, social media outlets, and other societal centers of cultural influence. Don’t believe me? Just check out what’s showing in the theaters or peruse your local bookstore.


Spiritualism’s Role in the Eschaton


Of all Christian believers, Seventh-day Adventists, who study fervently the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation, should be least surprised by this phenomenological change in society. Unfortunately, in my encounters, it seems that much of their attention is preoccupied with their consternation over the spread of secularism of the liberal “left” to be able to see what is occurring right under their noses on the conservative “right.” The rise in popularity of spiritualism in all its diversity of forms is a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The book of Revelation foretells that spiritualism will become a major force in advancing the diabolical agenda of God’s adversary, Satan, at the end of time.


Prior to the return of Christ, a great apostasy will occur (2 Thess 2:1–7) led by the lawless antichrist and brought to fruition by his “false signs and wonders” and “wicked deception” (2 Thess 2:8–12 ESV). In these final days of Earth’s history, the apostle John wrote that the whole world will worship (Rev 13:4) the devil and his end-time henchman, the antichrist or sea beast of Rev 13:1–10, whose power, throne, and authority (Rev 13:1) were received from the fiery red dragon (i.e., Satan as described in Rev 12:1–17, esp. v. 9). The people are deceitfully influenced and coerced to false worship through (1) universal death threats (Rev 13:7, 10, 15); (2) the blasphemous doctrines (Rev 13:5–6) of the sea beast, symbolizing a revived medieval Roman Catholicism and its papal system; and (3) the “great signs” and wonders (Rev 13:13–14) performed by the false prophet, the earth beast of Rev 13:11–18, symbolizing apostate Protestantism in the US.


Also, John explicitly revealed the deceptive activities of this unholy trinity, when he prophesied about the pouring out of the sixth of the seven last bowl plagues during the final tribulation. He wrote, “And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the [sea] beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet [i.e., the earth beast], three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev 16:13–14 ESV). The entire global population—“every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev 13:7 ESV) and “both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” (Rev 13:16 ESV)—will be deceived through false teaching and miraculous wonders to unite themselves with the purposes of the counterfeit trinity. The only persons excepted will be the elect people of Christ whose names have “been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 13:8 ESV), that is “those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev 14:12 ESV).


The nineteenth- and twentieth-century writer, Ellen G. White, in her book, The Great Controversy (1911), predicted something happening in the end-time similar to that which was previously discussed. She wrote, “Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome. The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience” and “trampling upon the law of God.”2 The deceitful triad of Satan and his two religious and civil allies will utilize spiritualism to unify the world under the banner of a false Sabbath (i.e., Sunday observance) and form a New World Order that will seek to eliminate the in-breaking rule of Christ and the kingdom of his beloved faithful people.


Scripture, Our Safeguard


How shall we stand in these solemn times of persecution and tribulation? White supplies a helpful response. “The people of God are directed to the Scriptures as their safeguard against the influence of false teachers and the delusive power of spirits of darkness. Satan ... is now putting forth his utmost efforts for a final struggle against Christ and His followers. The last great delusion is soon to open before us. Antichrist is to perform his marvelous works in our sight. So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true that it will be impossible to distinguish between them except by the Holy Scriptures. In order to endure the trial before them, they must understand the will of God as revealed in His word; ... . None but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict. ... God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.”3 Just as Jesus leaned on the word of God to sustain him against the deceitful temptations of Satan when he was in the wilderness for forty days and nights (Matt 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13), so too will earnest and prayerful Bible study illuminated by the Holy Spirit fortify the sincere believer against the delusion of spiritualism (Eph 6:10–13, 17; Heb 4:12).


Particularly, the closely related biblical doctrines of Christian mortalism, conditionalism, pre-millennialism, and annihilationism will aid in sheltering the genuine Christian from drinking the delusional wine from the golden cup of fallen Babylon (Rev 17:4). Scripture teaches that the human soul is not naturally or innately immortal (Gen 2:7; 3:22–24; 1 Tim 6:15–16) but has eternal life gifted by God only on the condition of one’s faith in Christ at his παρουσία (parousía) or appearing prior to the millennium (i.e., conditionalism and pre-millennialism; Rom 6:23; Deut 30:15). Furthermore, when one dies, the Bible says he/she does not pass immediately to heaven or hell as a disembodied spirit but rests unconsciously in the grave until the final judgment is complete (i.e., mortalism; also known as the doctrine of “soul sleep”). As such, it is impossible for the dead to communicate with the living (Job 14:10–12; Pss 6:5; 13:3; 88:10–12; 115:17; 146:4; Eccl 9:5–6; Isa 38:18–19; Acts 2:29, 34 [cf. 1 Kgs 2:1–2, 10]; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6, 14–15). At the second advent of Christ and following, the righteous dead are awakened from their slumber in the first resurrection of eternal life to live and reign with him forever (Rev 20:4–6), and the wicked dead are raised in the second resurrection of damnation (Dan 12:2; John 5:27–29; cf. Isa 40:10; Matt 16:27; 1 Cor 15:51–57; Eph 5:14; 1 Thess 4:14–18; Rev 20; 22:12). Moreover, after the millennium, those who constitute the wicked are condemned to the eternal nonexistence of the second death at the final executive phase of the judgment and are totally destroyed and consumed to ash in hellfire (i.e., annihilationism) not to a cruel endless existence in eternal torment (Job 27:3; 34:14–15; Pss 9:5–6; 37:10, 20, 36; Eccl 3:19–21; Isa 47:14; Ezek 18:4, 20; Ezek 28:17–18; Obad 16; Mal 4:1–3; Rom 6:23; 2 Thess 1:7–8; Jas 2:26; Rev 20:9–10, 12–15). These biblical teachings will fortify God’s people in the end-time against the demonic deception of spiritualism that teaches the living can communicate with and channel the spirits of the dead.


Additionally, Scripture forbids any and all beliefs and practices associated with spiritualism in its varied forms. Moses instructed God’s people, Israel, “‘Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God’” (Lev 19:31 ESV; cf. 19:26). Again, he exhorted, “‘When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this’” (Deut 18:9–14 ESV). In ancient Israel, those who practiced any kind of spiritualism were subject to the death penalty. “‘A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them’” (Lev 20:27 ESV; cf. Exod 22:18; Deut 18:20; Mic 5:12). This clear and simple biblical guidance will go a long way in protecting God’s people from the end-time satanic scheme of spiritualism.


Conclusion


It is a grave error for Christians to overlook or minimize the deception arising from the religious “right” by excessive concern absorbed with the problems of the secular “left.” Yes, the expanding secularization of the world is no doubt an important concern for the Christian but so too should be the rapid “sacralization” of our contemporary global society, particularly in the West. We must see our world holistically through the prophetic lens of Scripture, which discourages believers from becoming trapped in either the left or right ditches of deception. Nevertheless, the emphasized apocalyptic teaching of Scripture in Daniel and Revelation regarding the ascendancy of the antichrist is that it occurs within the corrupt sectors of Christianity. This suggests that the religious “right” should be of greater concern to the follower of Jesus in the end-time. For the rise of Christian nationalism among apostate Protestantism in the US and the growth of endearing feelings toward the current, very likable head of the Roman Catholic papacy, Francis I, around the world in conjunction with a proliferate uptick in fascination with spiritualism in the West and East are setting the stage for the final showdown between Christ and Satan in the ongoing cosmic conflict. The question is, will you keep your eyes wide open and persevere on the triumphant side of Christ in the midst of these deceptive times by standing upon his sacred word? I pray that together we will!


“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev 14:12 ESV).

____________________

Footnotes

1 Christopher Partridge, “Alternative Spiritualities, New Religions, and The Reenchantment of the West,” in James R. Lewis ed., The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, Oxford Handbooks (Oxford: Oxford Academic, 2009), abstract. Cf. 39–67. https://academic.oup.com/edited-volume/28248/chapter-abstract/213335941?redirectedFrom=fulltext.

2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 588, 583.

3 Ibid., 593–595.

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