Test The Spirits – And Then...?

Prophecy, Channeling, and the Christian Paranormal

Nate Cull


September 2009

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1 NIV

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. 1 Corinthians 14:5

But the Pharisees said, "It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons." Matthew 9:34

The majority of “Bible-believing” Evangelical Protestant Christians today believe as a matter of course in the existence of a spiritual (non-material) world. That is one of the distinguishing factors between “believing” Christianity and liberal-modernist Christianity, which in the 20th century attempted to radically restructure itself to respect the rise of modernism and scientific materialism. The modernist project didn't go as expected; religious faith remains a vital force in world affairs in the early 21st century, as does faith in spirituality of various forms – not all of it compatible with Christianity.

Since the rise of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements it is widely accepted in the believing church that miraculous manifestations or “signs and wonders” such as faith-healing, glossolalia or “speaking in tongues”, limited clairvoyance or “words of knowledge”, “prophecy” and similar paranormal spiritual phenomena do occur and are legitimate in the context of Christian life and worship. Of these, healing and tongues are probably now the most familiar, and practiced by many.

The Toronto Blessing of the mid-1990s did much to propagate a model of Charismatic Evangelical Christianity which is open to prayer, healing, and somewhat anomalous but harmless phenomena such as “laughing”, “drunkenness” and “falling in the spirit”. The Charismatic-Evangelical publishing world also pays great homage to stories of angelic visitations and Near-Death Experiences which describe visits to heaven. Missionaries and evangelists commonly recount stories of prophetic or precognitive dreams and synchronistic coincidences, and these are considered valid Christian miracles. Some of the more extreme “prophetic movement” preachers also talk about visionary experiences where they literally “see” future events unfolding, although these are rare.

There remains however a hard line drawn in many Charismatic-Evangelical minds between “good” and “evil” forms of such manifest spirituality – most especially when it comes to the phenomenon of spirit communication, or “channeling”. Personal glossolalia or xenoglossy (speaking words in an unknown but real language) is good; speaking clear words about God in English conveyed from another personality is evil. Speaking intuitively perceived words or images from God as prophecy or “word of knowledge” is good; speaking intuitively perceived words or images from saints or spirits of the dead is necromancy, expressly forbidden in the strongest possible terms as “doctrines of demons” with complete disregard for the theological content of the messages themselves.

The Evangelical case against the paranormal beyond the small circle of “tongues, words and healings” is considered open-and-shut: Seances, mediumship, Spiritualism, Spiritism, ESP, clairvoyance, automatic writing – all of these are classed vaguely as “the Occult” and banned. Therefore no investigation is carried out as to what it is that the spirits are actually saying, and 1 John 4 never even gets a chance to be applied.

It would be wise to remember that “occult” merely means “hidden”, and that Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven is also hidden. If we throw away everything hidden and presently unseen as unsafe, we risk throwing out the King Himself.

(The Catholic church does not make quite the same blanket condemnation when it comes to communications from saints. There is a sizeable literature about Marian apparitions and appearances of other saints, some of which the Vatican accepts, some of which it neither endorses nor condemns. But the Protestant Evangelical world generally bans all of these – or at least refuses to discuss them.)

I myself have come from this standard Pentecostal-Charismatic theological background. However, after personal study of several spiritually communicated documents, and personal conversations with people involved in a “circle” held in New Zealand in the 1970s, I have found myself forced reluctantly to the conclusion, based on the evidence and on the 1 John 4 principle, that there exists a well-documented literature of spirit communication going back over a hundred years.

In this literature there are many sane and articulate messages from entities who do in fact preach the Christian gospel, hold Jesus in as high regard as we do, and teach some very important lessons for the Christian church at this point in time. These messages perhaps hold the key to unifying science and faith, or at least making Christianity understandable for a modern, scientifically literate generation who struggle to understand how to reconcile an often obscure faith with the sophisticated physics and metaphysics they have been taught in university.

In fact, I believe that by banning this entire literature and practice of spirit communication, we are quite possibly banning the very gift of prophecy which the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 14. After Azuza street (although it was by no means an easy battle), the church finally legitimised speaking in unknown tongues. What we have yet to legitimise is speaking and studying clear, well-communicated theology received from paranormal sources in known tongues – perhaps literally “the tongues of men and angels”.

And it is worth remembering that at the heart of the Gospel story, Jesus' most grievous opposition came not from the Greek or Caananite mystics and seers outside Jerusalem, but from the innermost guardians of religious law and purity: from those who believed the Son of God Himself was speaking and performing miracles by demonic power.

Are there other witnesses to God who we have similarly cast outside the gates? I think there are, and I think it's well past time we looked at them. We have both the duty to ask the spirits “what do you think of Jesus” and the right to choose to discard those paranormal communications which do not regard Jesus as Lord.

But having discarded the spirit communications which are obviously not compatible with Christianity - what do we do with the ones that are? Or even might be? Do we have the courage to explore where this old, forgotten and perhaps dangerous, road will take us?

In this introductory essay I want to mention just a few of the books which so far I have found helpful in tracing out the outlines of a Christian theology seen “from the other side”, and which suggest to me, like outlines of a ruined mansion, some lost things which we have yet to dig up and fully understand.

The general outlines of the theology described by spirit communicants who share belief in Jesus Christ seems to be these:

  • God is One, and God is Love. Yes, there really is a God at the centre of the universe, He really does hold all things together, and He really is deeply concerned with every life form and especially sentient ones like us. Beyond that there seems to be a communication gap, as if the words or concepts needed to describe life in higher dimensions simply don't exist for us – perhaps what Paul wrote when he said “things not lawful for man to utter”.

  • Heaven does exist, but it's a very large place. Galaxy-scale large or bigger. There are levels or stages of growth beyond this world and interesting work to be done. The world 'upstairs' is much more obviously influenced by our minds and our spirits than this one, so it is much harder to hide from our true spiritual state. Everything we think or desire becomes real there and projected outwards. Apparently that happens here too, but we don't often understand what happens.

  • Hell as a condition or place of personal spiritual poverty or self-destructiveness is very real and saving people from it is very important, but it is not 'eternal' in the sense of lasting forever – it only lasts as long as the sin that causes it. Sin can be repented from. But it's a lot easier to repent in this life because the physicality of this world is designed to help us do just that. There are suggestions that there are whole 'missionary' organisations in the next life which carry on the same sort of things that Evangelical Christian organisations do in this one, reaching out to people in spiritual distress.

  • Jesus of Nazareth is a Very Important Person there and many communicators agree that the doctrine of Jesus being the “Only Son of God” in the sense of being the most perfect representation of the Divine Nature is correct. (Not all communicators do; some think of him as just another teacher among many. But the afterlife does seem to be a big place and people are grouped into different schools of thought even there.) However, we are all actually children of God and somehow share in Jesus' nature as well. The problem is that we don't grasp this; somehow we are not in tune with our true nature or essence. This seems to be the problem of sin.

  • Salvation is a matter of both faith and works, in the sense that since we come from God and have never really left God, and God is the source of all love and reality and existence, we do need to just trust Him. Our whole lives (not just Christians – everyone) are ordered and guided for the purpose of salvation or redemption or repentance, but we have the choice of whether we cooperate with this or not. We can take the fast road or the slow road. We will get to the same place eventually (because God is the only place to get to), but not until we go the right direction.

  • Love and forgiveness, as Jesus taught, are the essentials for finding our true nature and place in the universe. We have to let go of everything we hold on to which blocks us from God. That includes the right to retaliate and attack others, the right to defend ourselves, and, it seems, ultimately even our right to continue living in a body. This does not mean that our bodies are bad but that they are merely temporary, created for the purpose of connecting with other people and learning how to love. In the worlds beyond there are other ways of doing the same thing which are more effective. We will not be less 'embodied' in the sense of having fewer emotions or feelings, rather less restricted. We really don't have the words to describe this.

  • In the end it all comes down to God. We have a very limited idea of God here; we often think of him as a dominating negative force who prevents us from doing things, but it's the other way around; God is the life and energy and freedom in which we live and without whom we would simply not exist. The worlds beyond seem to have whole sciences based on their understanding of God (or love) as we here have understood light and electromagnetic radiation. God's existence is simply not a matter of faith or philosophical paradox there – His existence is just reality, like the sun being in the sky.

  • But although we seem to be so distant from God in this world, actually we are very close. We are all here in this world to learn and grow and are achieving things in the spirit which we have yet to become aware of. All we need to do is trust and rest in this and live our life every day as it comes. The Lord's Prayer - “give us this day our daily bread” - is a good practical guide to life in the Spirit.

The books or writers which have led me to this understanding of theology are many but some of the key ones are:

  1. Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation – written by a living monk in the 1960s, but valuable because he outlines the same idea of “unity” which comes through very strongly in some of the more “spooky” communications.

  2. Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures – the founder of Christian Science, and one of the first people to really write a sensible and logical theology of faith healing decades before the Pentecostal healing movement, expands on the “unity” idea. She often takes criticism for her idea that “evil is nothing”, and for her view of the body as illusory, but this is actually strictly Biblical. There cannot be two Gods, one good and one evil. She does not endorse sin at all, in fact she reads as fairly grumpy and intolerant to a modern ear, but her philosophy takes the “mental-monist” position which is very rarely explored today (the standard scientific framework is physical-monism). Mental monism however seems to be the most coherent way of explaining spiritual phenomena. Interestingly she was not at all open to the idea of spirit communication and the Spiritualist movement of her era, yet she came to many of the same conclusions.

  3. Michael Cocks' The Stephen Experience and Olive Ashman's Communion With A Saint. These two books published in the 2000s describe the teachings of “Saint Stephen”, a communicator who taught for several years in New Zealand in the 1970s and who seems consistent with being who he claims to be: the Biblical Saint Stephen. His theology has a lot of links with that of Eddy's and Merton's.

  4. Winifred Moyes' The Zodiac Messages (available online at http://www.christianspiritualism.org/messages/zodiactable.htm ) - sermons delivered in trance, very similar to the Stephen experience, by a medium from 1922-1957. 'Zodiac' claims, like Stephen, to have been a contemporary disciple of Jesus and has similar teachings.

  5. Helen Schucman's A Course In Miracles – a book written by 'inner dictation' in the late 1960s - early 1970s which claims to be by Jesus. It is written for a university educated, philosophy/psychology student audience, and is quite startling in how starkly it describes the choice between spirit and matter. The philosophical viewpoint is very much like Mary Baker Eddy's. Many Christians (and even the publisher) don't believe this book to be Christian (usually without even reading it), but I think it is. A copyright dispute has left several versions of this book across the Internet – find the 'Jesus' Course In Miracles', 'Thetford', 'Hugh Lynn Cayce' or 'Sparkly Book' version if you can as it is an early original draft and is much more readable – and more overtly Christian - than the later 'tidied up' published version which was released for a secular New Age audience.

  6. Frances Bird's The New Dispensation – and three other related books, published in the late 1980s but now out of print, the manuscript itself appears to have been received by automatic writing in the WWI or 1920s era. It talks a lot about the concept of the “end of the age” and the parable/metaphor of “tares and wheat” and for me has many resonances with Rick Joyner's The Harvest from the early 1990s.

  7. There are many other inspired or 'channeled' books, of varying degrees of usefulness, many of which I have not yet had the time or desire to investigate. Some of them I think may well be demonic, some may be misguided, others may be very clear and to the point. A website which hosts a lot of these works, without regard to their content, is www.spiritwritings.com . I don't vouch for all of the books on there – of the ones I've read, 'The One Way', 'The Seven Purposes', 'Christ In You by Anonymous' and Patience Worth's 'The Sorry Tale' seem interesting to me.

  8. In Catholic channeling and Marian apparitions, I find Medjugorje ( http://www.medjugorje.org/ ) personally resonates and I have mixed feelings about Katya Rivas ( http://www.greatcrusade.org ) but some of her writing also seems plausible. Admitting the existence of saints like Stephen (not as people to pray to, but just to listen to) naturally suggests investigating the world of Catholic saints, which is vast and daunting and which I have not yet touched beyond these two.

  9. A website dealing with some of the wider issues of the intersection of science, philosophy, Christianity and the paranormal is Michael Cocks' The Ground of Faith ( www.thegroundoffaith.net ). I've written some articles here and may do so in future.

Reading these books is quite challenging and can be a very intimidating thing to do. It is extremely scary to have to come to grips with seeing my faith through a different angle, particularly if it is teaching something I find I'm not sure about. I find it useful to approach spiritually intense material with my intuition on full alert. If it 'feels right' to me then I read it. If it gives me a bad gut feeling or just leaves me confused then I back off. I don't think if we are reading with an open heart and mind and for the love of God that we can do permanent mental or spiritual damage by reading 'the wrong thing' but I do think that there are some spiritual communicators that I don't want to give any time to. I'm only personally interested in the ones who talk positively about Jesus or who seem to be saying the same things which Jesus taught (though that second group isn't necessarily limited to Christians).

Ultimately, I would like to see Protestant Christians from the Charismatic-Evangelical tradition read and wrestle with this material (and I expect this to happen first from the Emerging or Postmodern sub-group, as they are more open to experimenting and challenging faith taboos while still holding to an Evangelical high view of the divinity of Jesus). I know it will open up a lot of boxes marked “evil! do not touch!” that have been forcibly stamped closed since the dawn of the Modern Spiritualism movement in the 1850s, but I think coming to terms honestly with these communications will be very important in the near future.

If inspiration in its various forms – including the more overt forms of automatic writing and trance channelling – truly is related to the “gift of prophecy”, then it's high time for it to come in from the cold. My belief is that there was a needless split between Christian Science, Christian Spiritualism and the Pentecostal movement – and though those movements themselves had serious flaws, it may be time to heal a very deep wound by reconciling and recognising the Spirit in angels we have called strangers.