From the Editor’s Notebook: Cults, part 4

From the Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Capsule Comments On The Cults
(Part 4)


Spiritism, sometimes referred to as Spiritualism, is as old as antiquity itself, issuing from man’s desire to look beyond the grave. It can be traced back to the earliest books of the Bible (cf. Gen. 41:8; Ex. 7:11, 22:8:18). Thus, of all the cults, it is the only one mentioned in the Word of God and warned against (see Ex. 22:17; Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:10-11; 1 Sam. 28:7), being associated with witchery, trickery and deception. Demons are extremely operative in Spiritism, and Genesis 40:8 should serve as a warning to all Spiritists.

Modern Spiritism came into the spotlight in 1844 at Hydesville, N.Y., when two young sisters, Katie and Margaret Fox, claimed to have heard unusual and strange tapping sounds in their home indicative of supernatural manifestations. Though in later years they repudiated the whole thing as a “result of childish pranks,” this did not discourage the wave of interest in Spiritism which by that time was a well organized movement in the United States. In turn, this Spiritism revival soon spread to England and Europe.

Adherents to Spiritism draw heavily on the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, Franz Mesmer, and Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910). Davis became recognized as the Modern Apostle of Spiritism. Other noted personalities who became witnesses to Spiritistic phenomena were Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Prof. Alfred Wallace (zoologist), William T. Snead (journalist and scholar), Sir William Crookes (chemist), Prof. Richard Hodgson (scientist), and Prof. William James (physician, psychologist and philosopher).

The scientific revolution in the nineteenth century served as a catalyst to the Spiritist movement which, at its height, claimed over ten million followers. Today the Spiritist movement is organized on a basis similar to denominationalism. In the United Stated the main associations are the International General Assembly of Spiritualists, the National Spiritual Alliance of the U.S.A., and the National Spiritualist Association of Churches. This last group is the orthodox body of American Spiritualism and the most prominent, even maintaining a seminary for the training of their ministers.1

Today there are in excess of 455 churches associated with the Spiritist movement, with a membership of over 166,000 in the United States, although the various groups claimed in 1971 that there were over one million believers in the U.S. South America boasts of over three million followers of Spiritism in spite of intense opposition by the Roman Catholic Church.

There is, of course, false or sham Spiritism, but true Spiritism is well attested, the Bible describing such supernatural manifestations as coming from demon forces and thus under the curse of God (see 1 Sam. 28:3, 9; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron. 33:6).

The chief doctrines of the Spiritist movement are as follows:

1. A definite emphasis on clean living and keeping the “Golden Rule.”

2. A leaning toward pantheism, believing in an Infinite Intelligence expressed in the phenomena of nature, both physical and spiritual. It is taught that there is no personal God.

3. A belief in life after death.

4. A belief in man’s ability to communicate with the dead.

5. A denial of the Trinity.

6. A denial of the deity, atonement, resurrection and Second Advent of Christ. Christ, it is taught, was a medium.

7. A denial of man’s fall, the authority of the Bible, and of a literal hell.

8. A belief that the doorway to reformation is never closed against any human soul, here and hereafter.

9. The teaching of God, or Infinite Intelligence, as love is central in their various doctrines.

10. Ultimately, say the Spiritists, we will all be absolved into Infinite Intelligence. It is taught that there are seven steps to this ultimate perfection for all, and the rapidity with which we reach the final step depends upon our conduct in this present sphere.

1 The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 926.