Snapshot: Spiritualism/Spiritism

It all officially began in 1848 in a small town called Hydesville, New York. It was there that three sisters of the Fox family began to experience unusual things. They heard strange rappings, which the Fox sisters believed were the manifestations of a departed spirit. They called this spirit “Mr. Splitfoot,” and believed that it was the ghost of a man who had been murdered in the house. Soon neighbors heard about the ghostly encounters and came to see what was going on. Within a short time an entire movement was born. It was called Spiritualism and its main focus was on communication with the dead.

The Spiritualist movement exploded on the American scene. Soon it spread to many other parts of the world. Although it seemed to be a new spiritual movement, it was actually rooted in other movements then present—Transcendentalism, Mesmerism, and the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. And of course, it was not really new at all. It is but another form of ancient spiritism, the belief and practice of contacting the spirit world. It is as old as Babylon. It has been a factor in false religions and cults worldwide—from Voodoo to Mormonism. It was known in ancient Israel. It was one of the main reasons for the fall of King Saul and his rejection by the Lord (1 Samuel 28, 1 Chronicles 10:13). It was condemned as wicked and evil by God in no uncertain terms (Deuteronomy 18:10-11, Leviticus 19:31, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 8:19, Galatians 5:19-31, 1 Timothy 4:1). And from a biblical perspective we understand that the supposed encounters with the spirits of the dead are really demonic in nature.

The Spiritualist movement was at first ostensibly Christian. Most early followers went to church and claimed that they were recovering part of their Christian heritage. But it did not take long for any vestiges of Christianity to be rejected. The spirits emphatically rejected the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the atoning work of Christ, and other cardinal Christian doctrines. Spiritism itself is an overt occultic practice. So it is not surprising that a wide range of occultic and paranormal experiences became part of the Spiritualist experience: Clairvoyance, psychic powers, divination, visions, levitation, telekinesis, etc. As time went on the encounters became more and more weird. By the late 19th century a common occurrence in séances was the appearances of spirits who were formed from something called ectoplasm, a filmy, smelly, supernatural substance that issued from the bodies of the entranced mediums.

The principal teacher of Spiritualist doctrine was a 19th century man named Andrew Jackson Davis. While in a hypnotic trance Davis began to have visions and supernatural experiences. Through his spiritual encounters Davis developed a complex world view that has helped define Spiritualism to this day. Davis’s beliefs run completely counter to biblical Christianity.

Interest in Spiritualism peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century. In its heyday followers include people such as Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Edison, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Although the historic descendents of the 19th century movement are still with us, they are not as popular as they were a century ago. However, the advent of the New Age Movement and a growing interest in the occult in this country have fueled belief in ghosts, spirits, and spiritualist-type communication. The New Age channelers are essentially spiritistic medium recast in a new light. Thus Spiritualism/Spiritism is still with us today, just in new forms. It is an ancient heresy in new garb.

God: There is generally belief in one God. But He is not Trinitarian in nature. All religions are basically different paths to God.
Jesus: He is not deity. He may be viewed as a good moral teacher. However, he is often viewed as irrelevant.
Salvation: Based on good works and what we do in this life.
Human nature: Man is basically good. Many teach some idea of the divinity of man.
Sin: Sin is real, but is dealt with through human effort. No blood atonement is necessary.
Afterlife: Life is continuous after this life. Heaven is real. There may be a hell, but this is not taught by all. Many departed spirits are trapped in this world due to violence, unresolved matters, etc. Moral reformation is possible in the afterlife, as well as this life.
Scripture/Authority: The Bible may be used by some. The works of Andrew Jackson Davis are revered. Other Spiritualist and New Age writings may be used.
Truth: Revealed through the spirits. All religions contain truth.

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