A Minister Speaks Out On The Psychic And The Devil
J. Gordon Melton
In the late 1960's, the psychic truly came of age as a major competitor of some forms of Christian faith. No longer could it be dismissed as foolishness and because of this new realization the 1960's also saw the birth of a new type of literature in which fundamentalist Christians attack the psychic as being "of the Devil."
As a minister of the Gospel I often am called upon to evaluate this "anti-psychic" literature. My interest in psychic and spiritual healing, as well as church history, is well known and laymen, having added a new depth to their faith through experiencing psychic reality are concerned that their fellow Christians should speak so harshly of them. At the same time, my non-Christian acquaintances in the psychic community consider the literature a 20th-Century form of witch-hunting and ridicule it as an expression of "Christian love."
The literature of which I speak consists of numerous pamphlets and a few books, some claiming to be written by former mediums or psychics now converted to conservative evangelical Protestantism. A few of these booklets are from Reformed or Baptist writers but by far the greatest number represent the Protestant Pentecostal perspective. (Pentecostals are those Protestants distinguished by a belief that speaking-in-tongues, or glossolalia, is prima facie evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.)
Their major argument is that the Bible condemns all psychic activity and they cite a number of both Old and New Testament passages (Deuteronomy 18:9-12;I Samuel 28;Acts 8; I Timothy 4:1) to make their point. The material is accompanied by the warning that these devices of Satan shall increase in the latter days and are signs of the end of time. Satan is a major figure in the literature, especially in the writings of Hal Lindsey, author of several popular books on prophecy, who seems determined to prove Satan's existence. The Church of Satan of Anton LaVey, although a minor force even in occult circles, always is given a large coverage and the remaining psychic community is wrongly associated with him and his anti-Christianity.
One is tempted to dismiss this literature as the ravings of people who know little or nothing about their topics. Even the converted mediums seem to be the ones who flunked their training courses in basic psychic development. In fact on a theological level the material is all but worthless.
When the Pentecostal says that something is "of the Devil" he really is saying in the strongest possible way that he does not like it and disagrees with it. But for someone who does not accept this world view, there is no common standard to judge the Devil's tastes. I personally think that cooked carrots are the Devil's favorite food (with boiled okra running a close second). Who is to prove me wrong? Certainly not those Devil-worshipping carrot eaters. Satan's deceit is manifested by his inclusion of vitamin A in carrots so people will think they are "good" food!
There is no appeal then from personal taste, just as there is no appeal from divine revelation. One can only hope that a new dislike will arise to replace the psychic as the "Devil's" main manifestation.
On a pastoral level, however, the anti-psychic literature takes on some importance. Almost weekly I hear from laymen who have been victimized by well meaning if fanatical acquaintances who challenge them with their devil theology. It's one thing to read a book. Its quite another to have a friend or relative say that something you are doing is satanic and draw a line that places you outside the church.
Such well meaning but misguided concern is reminiscent of the Inquisition that tortured people out of loving concern for their souls and then killed them quickly lest they turn again to their sin. It is for these victims that I write. Hopefully, by discovering answers which will blunt the major points of the attack on the psychic, they will find a shield from the barrage of their Christian brethren.
If any central charge can be leveled at the Pentecostal devil-psychic theory, it is shallow Biblicism. As one of my Bible teachers warned me, "A text out of context becomes a pretext." The anti-psychic literature is rife with texts out of context. Typical is the constant repetitions of the Deuteronomic prohibitions against certain kinds of psychic activity.
"When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee." (Deuteronomy 18:9-12.)
Two problems immediately arise in any modern use of this text. First it contains several Hebrew words which appear nowhere else in Hebrew literature and are untranslatable. They were translated during the rule of England's James 1 when witchcraft trials were popular and terms useful in those trials were inserted into the text. While we know the prohibitions are against certain forms of divination, we do not know specifically which ones. These prohibitions must, however, be set within the context of "accepted" means of divination: dreams (Genesis 41), the Urim and the Thummin, a Ouija board-like device (Exodus 28:30), precognition (Judges 4:4), casting lots (Acts 1:26) and the psychic experience (I Samuel 9, particularly verse 9).
In certain contexts, such as the conflict with Canaanite religion (particularly the blood-sacrifice cult of Moloch), practices associated with divination are prohibited. But in a differing context (Israel's own religion and in the early church) divination was an accepted practice (Numbers 27:21, Acts 1:26).
The second problem with the use of this text concerns its present binding force on the church. While it may be a matter of argument whether or not the text is binding, it seems for anyone who accepts the "whole Bible" the commands surrounding the prohibitions are as relevant as the divination prohibition.
Thus anyone who wishes to use this text as literal command today should also be prepared to stone stubborn children (Deuteronomy 21:18), keep the feast of booths (Deuteronomy 16:13) and accept polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:15).
As these verses show, this whole section of Deuteronomy consists of legalisms which have little or no relevance today and were only valid in the context of Israel's struggle with the Canaanites.
A major complaint of conservative Christians is that liberal Christians see them as being all alike, failing to recognize significant differences of doctrine and lifestyle exist among Holiness people and Pentecostals, Billy Graham and the Reverend Ike, Baptists and Plymouth Brethren, Wesleyans and Reformed. Conservatives strongly deny any association with the weird and radical fringe that is part of their movement, such as those fundamentalists who espouse bigoted racial theories of the donning of ascension robes or free sex practices.
Likewise the psychic community resents the naive and ignorant lumping of psychic research and parapsychology with healing, meditative practices with witchcraft, yoga with hypnotism, astrology with the tarot, or Spiritualism with Satanism and black magic. Such an approach to the psychic is the lowest form of the polemic.
While interests in the psychic often lead to exploration of a number of areas, most people in the field have one or two central concerns. (My own interests are psychic and spiritual healing, prayer and meditation.) While one learns about many things one's involvement usually is in the specific area that is most rewarding personally.
Pentecostal claims that involvement in the psychic leads to possession are plainly false. Such involvement by people who are emotionally unstable or who have immoral motives can lead to possession-like phenomena, especially when such people dabble with automatic writing, Ouija boards or seance activity. But such phenomena are no more prevalent than those caused by speaking-in-tongues which also affects the deep levels of the psychic. Any kind of psychic activity -glossolalia included- can and does lead to possession phenomena in the unprepared and unstable (see "The Dangers of Psychic Development" by Harmon H. Bro, October-November 1970 Fate.)
Finally, the central problem of the anti-psychic material is its orientation towards the negative, toward evil and the devil. Such a book as Hal Lindsey's "Satan Is Alive and Well" and Derek Prince's works on the demonic are psychologically dangerous literature. They are major causes of the phenomena they seem most to abhor. A simple psychological principle is at work. As Aldous Huxley explains in "The Devils of Loudon", "No man can concentrate his attention upon evil or even upon the idea of evil and remain unaffected. To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad. He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes some sort a part of him.
Prince, Lindsey and cohorts are pouring their energy into fighting Satan. They are creating an atmosphere in which it is the "in thing" to be freed from a possession. Lonely, bored and highly suggestible people are only too happy to respond with the called-for symptoms. At a mass meeting if you produce a paper bag, someone will be happy to regurgitate a "demon" for you.
Theologically, I sympathize with the Pentecostals. Their leaders and writers certainly recognize the theological attack the psychic represents for them. For years they have been telling their followers that tongues and healing "miracles" represent a direct supernatural activity and are a self-authenticating sign of the Holy Spirit. Considering tongues an outward sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit within is crucial to the Pentecostal position. And psychic research applied to the "supernatural" activities often results in a denial of their supernaturalism. If non-Pentecostals and even non-Christians can do these things, their value as a sign of baptism is ended.
Pentecostalists denounce non-Christian phenomenon as "counterfeit miracles." Discussing healing, one Pentecostal writer says, "We can see that this gift, like all the other gifts of the spirit, can be either from God or from Satan. The counterfeit must be in appearance as good as the real thing, otherwise it would not fulfill its aim." When Jesus was accused of working satanic miracles (see Mark 3:20-26) his reply was that a house divided cannot stand, a rejoinder that still is valid.
The idea of "counterfeit miracles" is as much a problem to the Pentecostals as it is to the psychic, moreover. If counterfeit miracles exist, than no instance of speaking-in-tongues can be considered a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit until it has been tested. Like all Christian experience the baptism is signified only if the fruits of the spirit follow. Anyone can speak in tongues or be a channel for miraculous healings. Only those persons filled with the Spirit can bring forth love, patience and kindness (Galatians 5:22). Pentecostals have no corner on the fruits-of-the-spirit market.
In conclusion, involvement in the psychic clearly is valid for the Christian, provided that involvement is done in a sane self-conscious context. I bid my Christian brethren cease their harsh words and uninformed polemics. Let us unite against our mutual psychic enemy, the perverted phenomena that can wreck a life as surely as can alcohol or narcotics. Allegiance at any particular theological principle should not keep us from that fellowship we all desire.Reprinted with permission of FATE Magazine.