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Winners Don’t Do Witchcraft

What pagan practices do Scriptures like Deut. 18 actually forbid and why? How can Christians guard against false divination in their own lives?
| Oct 31, 2013 | No comments |
“The Andy Griffith Show” for laughs threw its full support behind divination in “Three Wishes for Opie.”

“The Andy Griffith Show” for laughs threw its full support behind divination in “Three Wishes for Opie.”

If you’ve been dabbling with demons, open to the occult, or practicing pseudo-Latin from Harry Potter because you (unlike Potter’s heroes) want to control your life and predict the future, you must stop that. God’s life-sovereignty is better. His final prophet, Jesus, is better.

And if you have also been prying into the “prosperity gospel,” probing into mystical prayer, or actually bought the story behind that paper “prayer rug” that came randomly in the mail, you also need to stop that. It doesn’t matter how “Christian” these things appear — they are just plain old divination gear with a “Made By Angel of Light Industries” sticker on the back.

Yes, we may critique obvious evil practices that march right up your front lawn in red tights and scary face masks, even while evil is creeping in through the back door. Evil even masks itself in methods meant to keep out evil (which is what real witchcraft is meant to do).

Especially at this time of year, what’s the Christian to do? It’s not enough for us to reference texts like Deut. 18 and say what they don’t forbid. What does Scripture forbid — and why?

Christian fans of fantasy must not endorse, say, magic while only reluctantly admitting that okay, fine, some things are bad and nasty. Instead Christian fantasy fans must get out front and lead the charge against evil concepts and causes that dishonor Christ, the true Prophet.

Out with the false prophets, in with the Final Prophet

Deuteronomy 18 is the prime Old Testament text that warns against pagan divination. Let’s hit this text with some hermeneutics and see what we find, for them then, and for us now.

“The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. [verse 1]

A strange fact about Deut. 18: there’s more in there than about pagans. As in Deut. 17, this opening paragraph continues God’s cohesive instructions spoken through Moses’s sermon about spiritual leadership in Israel. Deut. 17 speaks of trials for individual sin, how priests and judges should discern truth, and what should happen when Israel finally gets a king.

This context continues into Deut. 18’s first instructions: God is specifying how His people should support the order of Levite priests. They are, for now, His “mediators” for Israel.

Surely this is why God then moves to a darker topic: fake mediators. Imposters. Liars.

From Deut. 18, verse 9 and onward:

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.

For them: This was originally spoken to and written for all Israel listening at the time. You will soon enter the Promised Land, and it’s a bad neighborhood. Don’t copy your neighbors.

For us: God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) has come/is coming true. We are those families of the Earth. Israel has expanded to include the Church and Gentiles (John 10:16, Acts). Thus we can now also listen to these older promises and warnings. Christians will disagree over how OT portions now affect us, but thanks to the New Testament’s similar warnings about sorcery and abominable practices, we may safely conclude these warnings do affect us.

“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering,

For them: Don’t practice literal human sacrifice! It’s an abominable practice.

For us: Treat the image of God with the utmost respect. Life is sacred. Though we may not burn children on altars, how might we even in small ways practice “human sacrifice”?
“I Love Lucy” portrays a divination-seeking séance for laughs.

“anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.

For them: All of these practices sound different, but they are alike — every one is a false and blasphemous way to seek God’s will in the future. Divination: attempting to foretell the future. Fortune-telling: the same. Interpreting omens: the same. Sorcery, charming, trying to call up the dead for secret information about what will happen: all abominable imposters standing in for the real way God will reveal the future. (More on this in a moment.)

For us: Spoiler — that Prophet was Christ (Hebrews 1). So how much more ought we avoid mysticism and superstition that seeks to get God’s “answer key” apart from His final Word.

“And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.

For them: OT Israel will have a unique role, used of God to punish these chronic offenders. (We’re not told their stories, but we’re told enough about God to know He is perfectly just.)

For us: Only the Church, and no modern nation, inherits God’s promises to Israel. Slowly God is “driving … out” evil in the world, but now in a fulfilled and more-powerful way. Thus we expect pagans to practice paganism, but we also humbly confront it among ourselves.

God punished pagans then, and He promises to punish them later. But in both Testaments He emphasizes: you will not practice this same paganism. It’s not about them. It’s about us.

So how will He communicate His will to His people then and now?

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

For them: God will reveal His will and the future in His own way, using prophets and the coming Prophet. That is the exclusive way He will give any further revelation to OT Israel.

A true prophet’s simple criteria is this: a) he speaks in God’s name and not for other gods, which also implies that his revelation must match God’s previous confirmed words; b) the prophecy must, must come true — e.g., no backsies, no excuses, and no qualifications.

For us: God did send prophets, discerned by those simple criteria, and that final Prophet was Christ Himself, Whose every word aligned with God’s previous revelation and came to pass. Because He is the final Prophet, the implication is clear: no more prophets, and no more revelation like that. This doesn’t discount “echoes” of God’s Word in nature or art, His miraculous intervention, or His surprising guidance of our lives that we often recognize in retrospect. But it does discount the methods many well-meaning Christians promise will help us practice “divination” and determine His exact individual will before our decisions.

The enslavement of sorcery

bewitched_abnerkadabra_dowsingLest we fail to take false-forecasting divination/sorcery/paganism seriously, the apostles repeat such warnings for God’s people in the New Testament.

In Galatians, the apostle Paul blasts legalism and upholds true freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. […] You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

(Galatians 5:1, 13)

“Freedom” with no chief end isn’t freeing. It’s slavery. Such works of the flesh enslave us:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

(Galatians 5: 19-21; emphasis added, as below)

Sorcery enslaves. You may be an OT pagan sacrificing your child — your own child, and the very promise of your dynasty! — to appease false gods. Or you may be a pagan reading a horoscope based not even on updated superstition. Or you may be a well-meaning Christian seeking to “divine” the Lord’s will for your life apart from His final Prophet, Christ, and the written revelation of Christ. In all of those situations, you’re not free for Him. You’re a slave.

Praise be to God that Christ died to set slaves free — free from fear and mysticism, spiritual slavery, paranoia about false prophecies, and the powers of darkness. But what about those who reject God’s promised Prophet and persist in their vain attempts to divine the future?

Revelation, amongst all the controversial symbols, speaks of Babylon’s fall simultaneous with Christ’s promised return. By now I’m sure “Babylon” refers to the whole sinful world:

[…] The light of a lamp
will shine in you no more,
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
will be heard in you no more,
for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

(Revelation 18:23)

Sorcerous empires will be purged from the planet. All that evil impurity, blasted into ash.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city [New Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place on New Earth] by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

(Revelation 22:14-15)

Sorcerous people will not enter the resurrected Earth. They will go on in slavery forever.

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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I guess I can’t take this seriously because I just don’t believe in sorcery, and I have a hard time imagining that other people take it very seriously, except as a sort of ritual they use to reassure themselves, similar to wearing lucky socks or something. Certain people make a lot of noise about how pagan Halloween is, but I think we all know that the majority of not-purely-bank holidays are historically rooted more in paganism, with a veneer of Christianity over it. Like with Christmas trees, Easter eggs and bunnies, holly and ivy, May poles, and such. People do make a stink about those, but much less so, and I’d guess the difference is because they seem more innocuous and less morbid than the Halloween paraphernalia. My theory is that the people who object to Halloween object more to the morbidity than to the paganism, and worrying about the paganism seems like worrying about clean floorboards in the car when the engine makes funny sounds (not the best analogy, but I’ll keep it).

R. J. Anderson

Only the Church, and no modern nation, inherits God’s promises to Israel.

Oh no, please, brother. Seriously, this makes me want to cry. The Church inherits the wonderful blessings God has given us in Christ, and the promises God made to His faithful people through Him — all the things spelled out for us so beautifully in the New Testament. And we are also given much good teaching about sins and harmful practices to avoid, sorcery most certainly among them. But the Church, which is a spiritual body made up of believers from all nations, does not inherit the blessings and promises made to Israel, a physical and literal nation, under the covenant of Moses — we do not inherit the land of Canaan as our rightful property and dwelling place, we do not receive the strictures of the Law to uphold, we are not bound by the rituals of the sacrifical Tabernacle worship system. Israel and the Church are two separate things in the plans and purposes of God, and it worries me to see them mixed up and used interchangeably.

Yes, Israel as a nation currently exists in a state of unbelief and rejection of God’s true Messiah, and so are not enjoying the blessings that should be theirs. As I’m sure you remember, Paul was in agonies of soul over this in the book of Romans, even wishing that he himself could be condemned if only his fellow Jews might be saved. But Paul also insisted, as did Isaiah and Jeremiah and Zechariah before him, that a day would come when national Israel would be restored spiritually as well as politically and become head of all the nations. Not some other group of people acting as a substitute for Israel, but the actual physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — i.e. Jewish people.

Taking prophecies and statements directed to national Israel, spiritualizing them and applying them to the Church distorts their meaning, and invites Christians to misappropriate all kinds of commands, promises (and sometimes, fearsome warnings) which were not intended for them in the first place. And it’s terrible to witness the growing tide of anti-Semitism rising from this mistaken belief that Israel has been permanently rejected by God and their inheritance given over to the Church. Absolutely we can and should learn about God’s holy character and purposes from the way He dealt with OT Israel, but we have to be very very careful about interpreting and applying to ourselves books which are, in essence, somebody else’s mail.

I know this is a clash between entire systems of theological interpretation and whole denominational lines of thought. I know it’s not going to be resolved here. And I also agree with the main point of this article, so I’m not trying to say there’s anything wrong with your overall reasoning. It’s just that one phrase jumped out at me and I couldn’t bear to let it pass as though it didn’t matter, because it matters so very much.

R. L. Copple

While I agree, not all OT laws were passed onto the NT Church, we also need to be careful to not negate the real continuity between the two indicated by Jesus and Paul. Paul, in Romans (10 I think) gives the analogy of Israel being an olive tree, and the Gentiles being grafted into it as the NT Church. The council in Acts gives us what parts of the OT laws the Church was expected to follow.

I wrote an article a while back on this, because certain groups like to dismiss OT prohibitions against certain things based on this separateness between the two. If interested…

Did OT Morality Get Thrown Under the Bus?

R. J. Anderson

Yes, I remember commenting positively on that very article (though I still don’t see any Biblical support for your view that it is wrong for widows to remarry, and I fear taking that stance may stumble readers who might otherwise have been helped by your argument — but that’s another topic).

Certainly the moral laws of the OT give us a crucial framework for understanding the holy character of God and His desire for how His people ought to conduct themselves, especially when those laws are reiterated or echoed in the NT (as they are with the prohibitions against sorcery, and also in regard to sexual behaviour). There is indeed a continuity between God’s commands to Israel in the past through Moses and the Prophets and His teachings through the apostles to the Church, because He is the same God.

R. L. Copple

Thanks, RJ. I hesitate to discuss off topic responses to my blog here. I’ll only note the issue about widows wasn’t directly in the article (I just reported what Scripture said), but in the comments. And I appreciated pointing out the verse which allowed me to adjust my original answer to the question.

At any rate, it appears we agree, just wanted to keep a balance and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 🙂

Paul Lee

The direction that this post takes is interesting. It’s an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone message, delivered ironically to those who fit the stereotype of fire-and-brimstone-style Christians.

I find this refreshing, not in a vindictive way, but by way of a universal warning for all of us. When we dig deep into the insecurity buried beneath our shallower theologies, easy assurances, and spiritual platitudes, the truth is that people guilty of sorcery have no place in God’s plan of redemption. I agree with Stephen’s exploration of the real truth about sorcery. Likewise, sexually immoral people simply don’t go to heaven, and Jesus said that a lustful look is adultery.

This is why I don’t believe in “saved” anymore. We are not safe, and all is not well. I think grace and faith are strongest when we forget about security and assurance and sanctification, and become fully aware of our brokenness. I think Christ saves us from ourselves each moment as we look to him in sheer desperation, and not in one moment to stretch across our whole lives. In the condition of total despair over our hopeless state is exactly where we find the assurance that Christ will definitely save us in the end.

Sorry to ramble. I know it’s off topic, but like R.J. Anderson said above with the Israel-church thing, it’s a topic that I’m very emotionally tied to.

R. J. Anderson

So Christ’s work was insufficient to pay the price of all our sins, and we are cast back on our own works (in this case, it seems, the work of praying fervently to be saved again and again) to save us? I agree with you that as human beings we are incapable of saving or securing ourselves and that our state is hopeless without Christ, but I also see in Scripture the assurance that no power in heaven or earth can separate us from the love of God in Christ, or pluck us out of His hand once we have been saved by Him. According to Paul, the Holy Spirit is the “seal” or “deposit” guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven. A deposit that can be instantly withdrawn the moment we fail to measure up to God’s perfect standard, and has to be removed and given back again and again, is no deposit or guarantee at all.

Sure, a person who lives in willful and unrepentant sin on a habitual basis, and feels little or no guilt or shame about it, is arguably not a real Christian even if they claim to believe. The Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer convicts us of sin and makes us want to be more like Christ, and if we have no such conviction and no such desire, it’s a pretty good sign that we have only been deceiving ourselves and do not belong to Christ at all. But that’s not the same as living moment to moment with no assurance of eternal life whatsoever, as you seem to be suggesting.

A genuine, Biblical understanding of assurance of salvation doesn’t make a person smug and self-righteous; it makes us humbly grateful and leads us to reverence and worship of Christ, whose death was sufficient to save even the worst of sinners like us. I am confident in my salvation not because I am confident in my own worthiness or deserving, but because I am confident in His excellence, His finished work, and His promises. It seems to me that is really what trusting Christ for salvation is all about.

Aaaaaand it’s Massively Off-Topic day on Speculative Faith. Again. 🙂

Paul Lee

So Christ’s work was insufficient to pay the price of all our sins, and we are cast back on our own works (in this case, it seems, the work of praying fervently to be saved again and again) to save us?

Definitely not. Relying on continued prayer to guarantee salvation would be even worse than relying on one prayer and one turning point as a basis of assurance. Praying continually for salvation would definitely be witchcrafty.

The thing is, I grew up in a church where I was taught that salvation happened in one moment of transformation, that it was permanent, that the epiphany was real and effective; but I still fell into the sorcery of ritualistically begging God to let me into heaven. I was never satisfied that I had a definitive moment of transformation, and I kept trying to manufacture one.

I’ve heard all those assurance verses since I can remember. I’ve been told sanctification is a gradual process following salvation. That’s a glaring contradiction to the premise of salvation being a moment of renew and transformation.

So, I don’t believe that salvation happens in a moment, definitely not in response to a prayer or resolution on the part of the sinner, although some Christians have had very real experiences that followed that pattern. I believe that salvation is the grace that comes to us every moment as we seek to die and to be reborn in Christ.