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"Christian" Mediumism

ONE CAREFUL AND OBJECTIVE study of "speaking in tongues" has been made by the German Lutheran pastor, Dr. Kurt Koch (The Strife of Tongues). After examining hundreds of examples of this "gift" as manifested in the past few years, he came to the conclusion, on Scriptural grounds, that only four of these cases might be the same as the gift described in the Acts of the Apostles; but he was not sure of any of them. The Orthodox Christian, having the full patristic tradition of the Church of Christ behind him, would be more strict in his judgment than Dr. Koch. As against these few possibly positive cases, however, Dr. Koch found a number of cases of undoubted demonic possession - for "speaking in tongues" is in fact a common "gift" of the possessed. But it is in Dr. Koch's final conclusion that we find what is perhaps the clue to the whole movement. He concludes that the "tongues" movement is not at all a "revival," for there is in it little repentance or conviction of sin, but chiefly the search for power and experience; the phenomenon of tongues is not the gift described in the Acts, nor is it (in most cases) actual demonic possession; rather, "it becomes more and more clear that perhaps over 95% of the whole tongues movement is mediumistic in character" (Koch, p. 35).

What is a "medium"? A medium is a person with a certain psychic sensitivity which enables him to be the vehicle or means for the manifestation of unseen forces or beings (where actual beings are involved, as Starets Ambrose of Optina has clearly stated [5], these are always the fallen spirits whose realm this is, and not the "spirits of the dead" imagined by spiritists). Almost all non-Christian religions make large use of mediumistic gifts, such as clairvoyance, hypnosis, "miraculous" healing, the appearance and disappearance of objects as well as their movement from place to place, etc.

It should be noted that several similar gifts have also been possessed by Orthodox Saints - but there is an immense difference between the true Christian gift and its mediumistic imitation. The true Christian gift of healing, for example, is given by God directly in answer to fervent prayer, and especially at the prayer of a man who is particularly pleasing to God, a righteous man or saint (James 5:16), and also through contact in faith with objects that have been sanctified by God (holy water, relies of saints, etc.; see Acts 19:12; 2 Kings 13:21). But mediumistic healing, like any other mediumistic gift, is accomplished by means of certain definite techniques and psychic states which can be cultivated and brought into use by practice, and which have no relation whatever either to sanctity or to the action of God. The mediumistic ability may be acquired either by inheritance or by transference through contact with someone who has the gift, or even through the reading of occult books [6].

Many mediums claim that their powers are not at all supernatural, but come from a part of nature about which very little is known. To some extent this is doubtless true; but it is also true that the realm from which these gifts come is the special realm of the fallen spirits, who do not hesitate to use the opportunity afforded by the people who enter this realm to draw them into their own nets, adding their own demonic powers and manifestations in order to lead souls to destruction. And whatever the explanation of various mediumistic phenomena may be, God in His Revelation to mankind has strictly forbidden any contact with this occult realm:

"There shall not be found among you any one that useth divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord" (Deut. 18:10-12; see also Lev. 20:6).

In practice it is impossible to combine mediumism with genuine Christianity, the desire for mediumistic phenomena or powers being incompatible with the basic Christian orientation toward the salvation of the soul. This is not to say that there are not "Christians" who are involved in mediumism, often unconsciously (as we shall see); it is only to say that they are not genuine Christians, that their Christianity is only a "new Christianity" such as the one Nicholas Berdyaev preached, which will be discussed again below. Dr. Koch, even from his Protestant background, makes a valid observation when he notes: "A person's religious life is not harmed by occultism or spiritism. Indeed spiritism is to a large extent a 'religious' movement. The devil does not take away our 'religiousness'... [But] there is a great difference between being religious and being born again by the Spirit of God. It is sad to say that our Christian denominations have more 'religious' people in them than true Christians" [7].

The best-known form of mediumism in the modern West is the spiritistic seance, where contact is made with certain forces that produce observable effects such as knockings, voices, various kinds of communications such as automatic writing and speaking in unknown tongues, the moving of objects, and the apparition of hands and "human" figures that can sometimes be photographed. These effects are produced with the aid of definite attitudes and techniques on the part of those present, concerning which we shall here quote one of the standard textbooks on the subject [8].

1. Passivity: "A spirit's activity is measured by the degree of passivity or submissiveness which he finds in the sensitive, or medium." "Mediumship... by diligent cultivation may be attained by anyone who deliberately yields up his body, with his free will, and sensitive and intellectual faculties, to an invading or controlling spirit."

2. Solidarity in faith: All present must have a "sympathetic attitude of mind in support of the medium"; the spiritistic phenomena are "facilitated by a certain sympathy arising from a harmony of ideas, views and sentiment existing between the experimenters and the medium. When this sympathy and harmony, as well as the personal surrender of the will, are warring in the members of the 'circle,' the seance proves a failure." Also, "the number of experimenters is of great importance. If larger, they impede the harmony so necessary for success."

3. All present "join hands to form the so-called magnetic circle. By this closed circuit, each member contributes the energy of a certain force which is collectively communicated to the medium." However, the "magnetic circle" is required only in less well-developed mediums. Mme. Blavarsky, the founder of modern "theosophy," herself a medium, later laughed at the crude techniques of spiritism when she encountered much more powerful mediums in the East, to which category also belongs the fakir described in Chapter 3.

4. The necessary spiritistic atmosphere is commonly induced by artificial means, such as the singing of hymns, the playing of soft music, and even the offering of prayer."

The spiritistic seance, to be sure, is a rather crude form of mediumism - although for that very reason its techniques are all the more evident - and only rarely does it produce spectacular results. There are other more subtle forms, some of them going under the name of "Christian." To realize this one need only look at the techniques of a "faith-healer" such as Oral Roberts (who until joining the Methodist church a few years ago was a minister of the Pentecostal Holiness sect), who causes "miraculous" healings by forming an actual "magnetic circle" composed of people with the proper sympathy, passivity, and harmony of "faith" who put their hands on the television set while he is on the air; the healings can even be brought about by drinking a glass of water that has been placed on the television set and has thus absorbed the flow of mediumistic forces that have been brought into action. But such healings, like those produced by spiritism and witchcraft, can take a heavy toll in later psychic, not to mention spiritual, disorders [9].

In this realm one must be very careful, because the devil is constantly aping the works of God, and many people with mediumistic gifts continue to think they are Christians and that their gifts come from the Holy Spirit. But is it possible to say that this is true of the "charismatic revival" - that it is in fact, as some say, primarily a form of mediumism?

In applying the most obvious tests for mediumism to the "charismatic revival," one is struck first of all by the fact that the chief prerequisites for the spiritistic seance described above are all present at "charismatic" prayer meetings, whereas not one of these characteristics is present in the same form or degree in the true Christian worship of the Orthodox Church.

1. The "passivity" of the spiritistic seance corresponds to what "charismatic" writers call "a kind of letting go... This involves more than the dedication of one's conscious existence through an act of will; it also refers to a large, even hidden area of one's unconscious life...All that can be done is to offer the self - body, mind, and even the tongue - so that the Spirit of God may have full possession... Such persons are ready - the barriers are down and God moves mightily upon and through their whole being" (Williams, pp. 62-63; italics in the original). Such a "spiritual" attitude is not that of Christianity: it is rather the attitude of Zen Buddhism, Eastern "mysticism," hypnosis, and spiritism. Such an exaggerated passivity is entirely foreign to Orthodox spirituality, and is only an open invitation to the activity of deceiving spirits. One sympathetic observer notes that at Pentecostal meetings people speaking in tongues or interpreting "seem almost to go into a trance" (Sherrill, p. 87). This passivity is so pronounced in some "charismatic" communities that they completely abolish the church organization and any set order of services and do absolutely everything as the "spirit" directs.

2 There is a definite "solidarity in faith" - and not merely solidarity in Christian faith and hope for salvation, but a specific unanimity in the desire for and expectation of "charismatic" phenomena. This is true of all "charismatic" prayer meetings; but an even more pronounced solidarity is required for the experience of the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit," which is usually performed in a small separate room in the presence of only a few who have already had the experience. The presence of even one person who has negative thoughts about the experience is often sufficient to cause the "Baptism" not to occur - exactly in the way that the misgivings and the prayer of the Orthodox priest described above was enough to break up the impressive illusion produced by the Ceylonese fakir.

3. The spiritistic "magnetic circle" corresponds to the Pentecostal "laying on of hands," which is always done by those who themselves have already experienced the "Baptism" with speaking in tongues, and who serve, in the words of Pentecostals themselves, as "channels of the Holy Spirit" (Williams, p. 64) - a word used by spiritists to refer to mediums.

4. The "charismatic," like the spiritistic, "atmosphere" is induced by means of suggestive hymns and prayers, and often also by hand-clapping, all of which give "an effect of mounting excitement, and almost intoxicating quality" (Sherrill, p. 23).

It may still be objected that all those similarities between mediumism and Pentecostalism are only coincidental; and indeed in order to show whether or not the "charismatic revival" is actually mediumistic, we shall have to determine what kind of "spirit" it is that is communicated through the Pentecostal "channels." A number of testimonies by those who have experienced it - and who believe that it is the Holy Spirit - point clearly to its nature. "The group moved closer around me. It was as if they were forming with their bodies a funnel through which was concentrated the flow of the Spirit that was pulsing through the room. It flowed into me as I sat there" (Sherrill, p. 122). At a Catholic Pentecostal prayer meeting, "upon entering a room one was practically struck dead by the strong visible presence of God" (Ranaghan, p. 79). (Compare the "vibrant" atmosphere at some pagan and Hindu rites; see above, pg. 50.) Another man describes his "Baptismal" experience: "I became aware that the Lord was in the room and that He was approaching me. I couldn't see Him, but I felt myself being pushed over on my back. I seemed to float to the floor..." (Logos Journal, Nov.-Dec., 1971, p. 47). Other similar examples will be given below in the discussion of the physical accompaniments of "charismatic" experience. This "pulsing," "visible," "pushing" spirit that "approaches" and "flows" would seem to confirm the mediumistic character of the "charismatic" movement. Certainly the Holy Spirit could never be described in these ways!

And let us recall a strange characteristic of "charismatic" speaking in tongues that we have already mentioned: that it is given not only at the initial experience of the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit," but is supposed to be continued (both in private and public) and become an "essential accompaniment" of religious life, or else the"gifts of the Spirit" may cease. One Presbyterian "charismatic" writer speaks of the specific function of this practice in "preparing" for "charismatic" meetings:

"Often it is the case that... a small group will spend time ahead praying in the Spirit [i.e., in tongues]. In so doing there is greatly multiplied the sense of God's presence and power that carries over into the gathering." And again: "We find that quiet praying in the Spirit during that meeting helps to maintain an openness to God's presence... [for] after one has become accustomed to praying in tongues aloud... it soon becomes a possibility for one's breath, moving across vocal chords and tongue, to manifest the Spirit's breathing, and thereby for prayer to go on quietly, yet profoundly, within" (Williams, p. 31).

Let us remember also that speaking in tongues can be triggered by such artificial devices as "making sounds with the mouth" - and we come to the inevitable conclusion that "charismatic" speaking in tongues is not a "gift" at all but a technique, itself acquired by other techniques and in turn triggering still other "gifts of the Spirit," if one continues to practice and cultivate it. Do we not have here a clue to the chief actual accomplishment of the modern Pentecostal Movement - that it has discovered a new mediumistic technique for entering into and preserving a psychic state wherein miraculous "gifts" bcome commonplace? If this is true, then the "charismatic" definition of the "laying on of hands" - "the simple ministry by one or more persons who themselves are channels of the Holy Spirit to others not yet so blessed," in which "the important thing [is] that those who minister have themselves experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit" (Williams, p. 64) - describes precisely the transference of the mediumistic gift by those who have already acquired it and have themselves become mediums. The "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" thus becomes mediumistic initiation.

Indeed, if the "charismatic revival" is actually a mediumistic movement, much that is unclear about it if it is viewed as a Christian movement, becomes clear. The movement arises in America, which fifty years before had given birth to spiritism in a similar psychological climate: a dead, rationalized Protestant faith is suddenly overwhelmed by actual experience of an invisible "power"that cannot be rationally or scientifically explained. The movement is most successful in those countries which have a substantial history of spiritism or mediumism: America and England, first of all, then Brazil, Japan, the Philippines, black Africa. There is scarcely to be found an example of "speaking in tongues" in any even nominally Christian context for over 1,600 years after the time of St. Paul (and even then it is an isolated and short-lived hysterical phenomenon), precisely until the 20th-century Pentecostal Movement, as the scholarly historian of religious "enthusiasm" has pointed out;10 and yet this "gift" is possessed by numerous shamans and witch doctors of primitive religions, as well as by modern spiritistic mediums and the demonically possessed. The "prophecies" and "interpretations" at "charismatic" services, as we shall see, are strangely vague and stereotyped in expression, without specifically Christian or prophetic content. Doctrine is subordinated to practice: the motto of both movements might be, as "charismatic" enthusiasts say over and over again, "it works" the very trap into which, as we have seen, Hinduism leads its victims. There can scarcely be any doubt that the "charismatic revival," as far as its phenomena are concerned, bears a much closer resemblance to spiritism and in general to non-Christian religion, than it does to Orthodox Christianity. But we shall have yet to give many examples to demonstrate just how true this is.

Up to this point we have been quoting, apart from Dr. Koch's statements, only from those favorable to the "charismatic revival," who only give their testimonies of what they imagine to be the workings of the Holy Spirit. Now let us quote the testimony of several people who have left the "charismatic" movement, or refused to enter it, because they found that the "spirit" that animates it is not the Holy Spirit.

1. In Leicester (England) a young man reported the following. He and his friend had been believers for some years when one day they were invited to the meeting of a tongues speaking group. The atmosphere of the meeting got a hold on them and afterwards they prayed for the second blessing and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After intensive prayer it was as if something hot came over them. They felt very excited inside. For a few weeks they reveled in this new experience, but slowly these waves of feeling abated. The man who told me this noticed that he had lost all desire to read the Bible and to pray. He examined his experience in the light of the Scriptures and realized that it was not of God. He repented and denounced it... His friend on the other hand continued in these 'tongues' and it destroyed him. Today he will not even consider the idea of going on further as a Christian" (Koch, p. 28).

2. Two Protestant ministers went to a "charismatic" prayer meeting at a Presbyterian church in Hollywood."Both of us agreed beforehand that when the first person started to speak in tongues, we would pray roughly the following, 'Lord, if this gift is from you, bless this brother, but if it is not of you, then stop it and let there be no other praying in tongues in our presence.'... A young man began the meeting with a short devotion after which it was open for prayer. A woman started to pray fluently in a foreign language without any stammering or hesitation. An interpretation was not given. The Rev. B. and I started to pray quietly as we had agreed earlier. What happened? No one else spoke in tongues, although usually in these meetings all of them, except for an architect, pray in unknown tongues" (Koch, p. 15). Note here that in the absence of the mediumistic solidarity of faith, the phenomena do not appear.

3. "In San Diego, California, a woman came for counseling. She told me of a bad experience that she had had during a mission held by a member of the tongues movement. She had gone to his meetings in which he had spoken about the necessity of the gift of tongues, and in an after-meeting she had allowed hands to be laid on herself in order to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of speaking in tongues. At that moment she fell down unconscious. On coming round again she found herself lying on the floor with her mouth still opening and shutting itself automatically without a word being uttered. She was terribly frightened. Standing around her were some of the people who were followers of this evangelist and they exclaimed, 'O sister, you have really spoken wonderfully in tongues. Now you have the Holy Spirit.' But the victim of this so-called baptism of the Holy Spirit was cured. She never again returned to this group of tongues-speakers. When she came to me for advice she was still suffering from the bad after-effects of this 'spiritual baptism' " (Koch, p. 26).

4. An Orthodox Christian in California relates a private encounter with a "spirit-filled" minister who has shared the same platform with the leading Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal representatives of the "charismatic revival": "For five hours he spoke in tongues and used every artifice (psychological, hypnotic, and 'laying on of hands') to induce those present to receive the 'baptism of the Holy Spirit.' The scene was really terrible. When he laid hands on our friend she made guttural sounds, moaned, wept, and screamed. He was well pleased by this. He said she was suffering for others - interceding for them. When he 'laid hands' on my head there was a presentiment of real evil. His 'tongues' were interspersed with English: 'You have the gift of prophecy, I can feel it.' 'Just open your mouth and it will flow out.' 'You are blocking the Holy Spirit.' By the grace of God I kept my mouth shut, but I am quite certain that if I had spoken, someone else would have 'interpreted.' "(Private communication.)

5. Readers of The Orthodox Word will recall the account of the "prayer-vigil" held by the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese of New York at its convention in Chicago in August, 1970, where, after a dramatic and emotional atmosphere had been built up, young people began to "testify" how the "spirit" was moving them. But several people who were present related later that the atmosphere was "dark and ominous," "stifling," "dark and evil," and by a miraculous intercession of St. Herman of Alaska, whose icon was present in the room, the whole meeting was broken up and the evil atmosphere dispelled (The Orthodox Word, 1970, nos. 4-5, pp. 196-199).

There are numerous other cases in which people have lost interest in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and Christianity in general, and have even come to believe, as one student did, that "he would not need to read the Bible any more. God the Father would himself appear and speak to him" (Koch, p. 29).

We shall yet have occasion to quote the testimony of many people who do not find anything negative or evil in their "charismatic" experience, and we shall examine the meaning of their testimony. However, without yet reaching a conclusion as to the precise nature of the "spirit" that causes "charismatic" phenomena, on the basis of the evidence here gathered we can already agree this far with Dr. Koch: "The tongues movement is the expression of a delirious condition through which a breaking in of demonic powers manifests itself" (Koch, p. 47). That is, the movement, which is certainly "delirious" in giving itself over to the activity of a "spirit" that is not the Holy Spirit, is not demonic in intention or in itself (as contemporary occultism and satanism certainly are), but by its nature it lays itself particularly open to the manifestation of obvious demonic forces, which do in fact sometimes appear. This book has been read by a number of people who have participated in the "charismatic revival"; many of them have then abandoned this movement, recognizing that the spirit they had experienced in "charismatic" phenomena was not the Holy Spirit.

To such people, involved in the "charismatic" movement, who are now reading this book, we wish to say: You may well feel that your experience in the "charismatic" movement has been largely something good (even though you may have reservations about some things you have seen or experienced in it); you may well be unable to believe that there is anything demonic in it. In suggesting that the "charismatic" movement is mediumistic in inspiration, we do not mean to deny the whole of your experience while involved in it. If you have been awakened to repentance for your sins, to the realization that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Saviour of mankind, to sincere love for God and your neighbor - all of this is indeed good and would not be lost by abandoning the "charismatic" movement. But if you think that your experience of "speaking in tongues," or "prophesying," or whatever else of the "supernatural" that you may have experienced, is from God - then this book is an invitation for you to find out that the realm of true Christian spiritual experience is much deeper than you have felt up to now, that the wiles of the devil are much more subtle than you may have imagined, that the willingness of our fallen human nature to mistake illusion for truth, emotional comfort for spiritual experience, is much greater than you think.

As to the precise nature of the "tongues" that are being spoken today, probably no simple answer can be given. We know quite certainly that in Pentecostalism, just as in spiritism, the elements of both fraud and suggestion play no small role, under the sometimes intense pressures applied in "charismatic" circles to force the phenomena to appear. Thus, one member of the largely Pentecostal "Jesus Movement" testifies that when he spoke in tongues "it was just an emotional build-up thing where I mumbled a bunch of words," and another frankly admits, "When I first became a Christian the people that I was with told me that you had to do it. So I prayed that I could do it, and I went as far as copying off them so they would think that I had the gift" (Ortega, p. 49). Some of the supposed "tongues" are thus doubtless not genuine, or at best the product of suggestion under conditions of emotional near-hysteria. However, there are actually documented cases of Pentecostal speaking in an unlearned language (Sherrill, pp. 90-95); there is also the testimony of many concerning the ease and assurance and calmness (without any hysterical conditions at all) with which they can enter into the state of "speaking in tongues"; and there is a distinctly preternatural character in the related phenomenon of "singing in tongues," where the "spirit" also inspires the melody and many join in to produce an effect that is variously described as "eerie but extraordinarily beautiful" (Sherrill, p. 118) and "unimaginable, humanly impossible" (Williams, p. 33).

It would therefore seem evident that no merely psychological or emotional explanation can account for much of the phenomena of contemporary "tongues." If it is not due to the working of the Holy Spirit - and by now it is abundantly evident that it could not be so - then today's "speaking in tongues" as an authentic "supernatural" phenomenon can only be the manifestation of a gift of some other spirit.

To identify this "spirit" more precisely, and to understand the "charismatic" movement more fully, not only in its phenomena but also in its "spirituality," we shall have to draw more deeply from the sources of Orthodox tradition. And first of all we shall have to return to a teaching of the Orthodox ascetic tradition that has already been discussed in this series of articles, in explanation of the power which Hinduism holds over its devotees: prelest, or spiritual deception.

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