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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."

Charisma: A Surprise Indeed!

Crowd with upraised hands and flying dove

Chapter Four of

The Soul Journey: How Shamanism, Santeria, and Charisma are Connected

Kent and Katie Philpott

Charisma is a term that turned up from time to time while we were researching shamanism, Santería, Wicca, and the trance states. This identification is troubling for those who have been involved with charismatic Christianity, like we have, and who hold to a theology that accommodates and supports, to some degree, the charismatic gifts as recorded in the Bible. The authors of this book are not cessationist, but acknowledge a present operation of the gifts of grace. Our position may more accurately be described as “semi-continuationist” or even, “semi-cessationist.” We view charismatic gifts as being present during times of “awakening,” but much less in evidence during “normal” times.

Charisma, as referenced in various books, articles, websites, and workbooks we consulted for this research involves practices whereby persons move into “altered states of consciousness.” Several authors appeared to defend the practice of entering into trance states by suggesting that, if the Christians are doing it, then it must be a mainstream and therefore acceptable custom.

Charismatics/Pentecostals may not necessarily engage in practices that would be labeled charisma, but the potential is there, and the line between the two is not easily determined or even noticed.

Finding that those who engage in the occult, magic, and spiritism defend such practices by pointing to “charisma” caused us to wonder if there was anything similar going on in the general Christian community.

After surveying a number of descriptions of various forms of worship and watching dozens of videos of charisma worship, our conclusion is that charismatics/Pentecostals may not necessarily engage in practices that approach entering into trance states, but the potential is there. Some charismatic/Pentecostal worship forms can, however, foster states of mind that resemble the shamanistic and Santerían rites, rituals, and celebrations. While their Christian “worship” may not purposely be aimed at attaining a trance state, the risk is there and lines are easily blurred.

The Trance State in Shamanism, Santería, and Wicca

Our research indicated that in shamanism, Santería, and Wicca the trance or ASC was normative. For instance, the shaman depends absolutely on what Michael Harner calls the Shamanic State of Consciousness of SSC. Santería includes two features that involve ASC. One has to do with divination and the other is spiritism. Both of these are dependent on trance states, wherein a deity or some other spiritual entity takes possession of the entranced one. In the Santerían bembes – the bata drumming and dancing festival ceremonies held to honor the orishas – the dancers move to the beat of the “magical” drums and become possessed by an orisha. The entranced and possessed ones then begin to function much like mediums or shamans would. In spiritism, which is indispensable to modern Santería, dead ancestors communicate with the living. This aspect of Santería is enjoying increased popularity.

In Wicca, the trance state is crucial. Wiccans speak of the journey, sometimes called the “trance-portation,” where the subject or journeyer contacts various spiritual entities. The ASC is the gateway into the journey. Most books on Wicca will provide the reader with numerous techniques calculated to move a person into a trance. The traditional pattern involves breathing, balancing, centering, grounding, followed perhaps by meditation or concentration on something or on nothing. Usually, the journeyer focuses on an object, such as a candle or an image of a deity, and this may all be accompanied by listening to music specially designed for the purpose – soothing, mellow, and nature-oriented melodies. Once in the ASC, the journeyer meets various entities that help during the soul journey, including animal familiars, spirit guides, angels, goddesses and gods, and souls of the deceased.

The trance state is an obvious connection between shamanism, Santería, and Wicca. The next question is, what about charisma? Is there a connection here as well?

Moving to the beat

During the 1970s, while pastoring a fairly large charismatic church, I strummed my guitar and sang as part of our praise band. Essentially, I helped lead the congregation in praise and worship. For nearly a decade I did this every Sunday morning. The lyrics of the choruses we sang were typically biblically oriented, and we sang the chorus several times before moving on to the next one. Usually, the entire “worship” time lasted at most half an hour. Sometimes people stood up, swayed, and lifted their hands, but those times were fairly tame compared to what has now arrived.
Nowadays the “praise band” is ubiquitous among Pentecostal/charismatics and many Evangelicals. Yes, the name of Jesus is heard, but the music tends to drone on and on, the drumming is loud and powerful, the power point presentation contains images depicting the beauty of the earth, and a “praise chorus” can last quite a long time. The lighting is sometimes manipulated, and the congregants seem lost in their swaying to the beat with arms raised and eyes closed. It sounds good and feels good, but is there something slightly wrong here?

In these venues, the music is the praise segment of the service and is often considered the worship time – the time when it is thought that God’s Holy Spirit shows up. And obviously, this is the time when the beat of the drum dominates. If examined from a biblical perspective, such worship should be seen as inadequate. The early church, as revealed especially in the book of Acts in the Bible, gathered because of a shared faith in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was present during the entirety of the time of gathering and not merely at a time when feelings and emotions were aroused by music. The early Christians considered that when two or three gathered together, God was present – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 18:20).

People who routinely experience such modern lost-in-the-music worship most often say it is their favorite part of the service. This is when their burden is lifted and they feel connected to God. Here, they feel, is where they experience God. And therein lies the difficulty: it is feeling-oriented. Those who were or are still old time rock-and-rollers now experience in their worship much the same sensations and feelings that were generated while listening to the rock bands; attending worship is akin to being at a rock concert, complete with the need for earplugs. Many people report that they are lost in the presence of God. Some of these people also recount that, in these moments, they sometimes speak to angels or saints and are even transported to the “third heaven” to converse with Jesus Himself.

Is it possible that worshippers move into a trance state without realizing it? If they do recognize themselves as being in a different state of mind, do they simply assume it is all of God? A broader and more serious question is, could demonic forces produce such a dramatic deception?

Contemplative Prayer

For three or more decades there has been a renewed interest in mysticism among Christians. Retreats for clergy often emphasize “contemplative prayer,” and the spiritual disciplines of those considered saints, such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Ignatius Loyola, are discussed and practiced. It is obvious that these veered sharply away from biblical models of prayer. The style of meditation these “saints” practiced does not match what is mentioned in biblical passages, which stress a focused, mindful, thinking of who God is and what He has done. Much if not most of the current revival of contemplative praying should not be mistaken for the biblical practice.

Jesus taught His followers how to pray; He even provided a model prayer – the Lord’s Prayer – and this prayer was a deliberate and conscious voicing of concerns and praise to God. In every case where prayer is described in the New Testament, nothing approaches instructions to settle, center, breathe, visualize, concentrate, blank out the mind, or focus on anything in particular.

Soaking Prayer

Beyond contemplative prayer is “soaking prayer.” What is called soaking prayer has been around since the beginning of the twenty-first century, yet it is neither widely known nor understood. One’s first assumption might be that it involves long periods of time spent in prayer to God. However, what it really involves is something quite different.
Soaking prayer is in reality a mystical activity. Since it is often described as “resting in God’s presence,” it appears to be innocuous and biblical. This is how many are drawn into it, especially when charismatic church leaders embrace it.
Proponents of soaking prayer are convinced it is nothing more than “positioning yourself to express your love to God.” To get to that stage, however, some quiet instrumental or worship music must pervade the environment, while the participants often lie on the floor. The mind eventually settles down and focuses on God, or so it is thought. The attitude of the participant is to be, “God, do what you want to in me.” After some period, perhaps hours, there might be laughter, crying, or shaking – all supposedly coming from the Holy Spirit. The goal of soaking prayer or a possible end point of it is that the Holy Spirit would give the person a vision or bring a memory to mind that needs healing.

Another emphasis of soaking prayer is that it brings a person into a state of deep rest. Soaking prayer almost always is accompanied by the playing of gentle worship songs, with the participants sitting or lying down. It may involve the repeated praying of short prayers for an extended period of time. It is reminiscent of a devotee of Hinduism chanting a mantra.

Persons practicing soaking prayer attempt to keep their minds free of thoughts and concerns. They continue this until they feel a sensation in the body, perhaps a tingling of the skin, a perception of heat or cold, or a breeze gently blowing upon the body. When this happens, the desired stage has been reached, and one experiences being in the presence of God. The soaking praying may begin innocently enough, but after a while, the participants are in a meditative state of mind. It is here that any connection to biblical prayer has been abandoned.

The following explanation of soaking prayer was found online under the heading “Embark on an intimate journey”: “The Secret Place is not just a listening experience. It is a journey of soaking worship. It is a place of intimacy with the Father, a place where the heart longs for His touch.” In that same website, where music for soaking prayer may be obtained, a soaking prayer facilitator’s comment addressed to a composer of music used for soaking prayer reads:
I prepare the sanctuary to become a resting place for the Lord as people come to soak in His presence. The lights are turned down, there are candles, and the atmosphere is that of intimacy. For three hours we seek His face together and listen to your music, which invites His presence to come. I lead it at our Soaking Prayer Centre at the church and many of our soakers really like it. It is anointed and I have had some awesome visions of angels and God’s glory while worshipping with it in the background.

It is disappointing how similar this sounds to Wiccan techniques used to enter a trance state. And there appears to be an addictive quality to soaking prayer; people crave it and think other forms of worship are boring and devoid of God’s Spirit.

Sozo prayer

The next step out on our continuum is “sozo prayer,” or “sozo ministry.” Sozo comes from the Greek word for save or deliver. The goal of sozo is laudable, and that is to get to the root of those things that prevent a Christian from entering into a deeper personal relationship with God.

Sozo is very mystical in its approach and departs dramatically from any biblical precedent. Those engaged in sozo prayer are encouraged by a mediator/guide to enter into a mild trance state. The mediator/guide then leads a person “into a series of mental/emotional rooms or stages, where, by connecting to their own deep feelings and thoughts, they believe themselves to have a new experience with God.”

Where soaking prayer is found, sozo will be close by as well. The motive is to “experience God,” and it is difficult to make a case against that desire. However, we have no scriptural mandate to experience God through our emotions or feelings; it is instead a matter of faith. The Bible does not actually teach that we are to experience God; we are to trust in and believe in God. I have found no place in the New Testament where anyone, including Jesus, Peter, John, or Paul, instructs believers to “experience God.” While we may sense that God is present with us, that is a different focus of our attention. Under discussion here is the seeking after sensations or feelings. Christians must be clear; our faith is not feeling-centered. We must not equate human feelings with the Spirit.

Is there biblical precedent or warrant for soaking prayer and sozo prayer?

Biblically oriented Christians desire to pursue knowledge of God through what He has revealed in Scripture, Old and New Testaments, rather than to seek a subjective, experience-driven union with God. And this is because there are counterfeit, demonically powered mechanisms depending on that attitude, which promise incredible spiritual breakthroughs, but which ultimately cannot deliver them.

A way of testing the spirits to determine whether they are from God (see 1 John 4) is to ask whether the spiritual process that brought them has clearly defined biblical precedents, and lacking clarity there, to see whether there is biblical warrant for the doctrine, theology, or practice supporting it.

Can biblical precedent be found that indicates well-defined evidence in the Scripture to support the prayer processes discussed here under the rubric of soaking, sozo, or contemplative prayer?

A short statement is sufficient: there is no such evidence. Some might make reference to certain things in the life of a number of persons spoken of in the Bible for support of so-called Christian style passive states of mind. Clearly, however, Jesus’ teachings on prayer assume mindful and thoughtful petitions to the Father who is in heaven. There is nothing in the writings of Paul, John, Peter, James, or Jude that approach what is advocated in the forms of prayer under consideration.

Is biblical warrant set by one or more statements in Scripture that might lend themselves to be in support of the forms of prayer in question? Again the answer is the same: there is none. Obscure verses from the Psalms, taken out of context, will not do. Neither Jesus nor any New Testament author referred to or used passages from the Old Testament to justify questionable forms of prayer. All of them knew prayer to be the expressing of mind and heart to God the Father who hears prayer.

With neither precedent nor warrant, some still attempt to label such practices as Christian and urge others into strange mechanisms to achieve an experience with God. These forms are not Christian but are normative in religions based upon shamanistic underpinnings, such as Santería, Wicca, Hinduism, some forms of Buddhism (especially Tibetan Buddhism), and other spiritual practices focused on deep meditation or concentration techniques.

More worrisome is the fact that these methods are dangerous. Most Wiccans believe that the entities they encounter in their journeys are not simply a product of the imagination but are real benign beings. They have no proof of their benevolence, however, and my work, experience, and research says otherwise. The gods, goddesses, guides, helpers, elves, fairies, animal spirits, dead ancestors, and so on, have a common denominator: they are actually demons in disguise. Unhappily, I must use the same description of events for those entering into trance-like states through soaking, sozo, and contemplative prayer and meditation.

However easy it might be to defend and protect or to argue and justify, a better strategy is a critical examination of the practices to which one has committed, because the consequences of living in error must not be taken lightly.
Christian Shamanism?

Kat Kerr is the latest in a stream of Christians or persons of religion who present themselves as what is known in other contexts as psychics or mediums.

In her book, Revealing Heaven: An Eyewitness Account, she claims she has been caught up to heaven and while there has talked face-to-face with the “Father.” During her frequent visits to heaven, she converses with the dead and brings back messages of their well being to loved ones on earth. Here is a typical shaman, cloaked in Christian orthodoxy, who travels out of the body, supposedly to heaven.

By means of a series of YouTube videos she brings regular “Revelation Reports.” She claims heaven exists inside the created universe and is thus material. Her descriptions include guardian angels, warehouses from which angels will one day bring human body parts to earth and heal many people, God’s secret agents doing special miraculous feats by which they earn themselves large mansions in heaven, “stop stations” where God’s guardian angels visit and inhabit and where miracles occur – and much, much more. This is all enthusiastically accepted by many Christians, particularly those who identify with Pentecostalism.

Interestingly, throughout her videos, Kerr presents much that is theologically normative. It is some truth mixed with much error, which makes it difficult to find fault. After studying her videos, I am fairly convinced that she is no charlatan or trickster. She comes across as a real Christian; she is passionate; she says all the right things for the average charismatic or pentecostal-oriented person, especially the younger set; she quotes Scripture, loves Jesus, and so on. Yet the connection with shamanism is unmistakable. It seems that the “age-old religion” has made inroads not just into Santería and Wicca, but also into certain segments of the broad Christian community.

The “Fire” Controversy

Before concluding this chapter, the current debate or controversy between the “continuationist” camp and the “cessationist” camp deserves comment, since it is a controversy about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is powerfully engaging a significant segment of the Christian community.

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California (a church I have attended over the years while visiting my home town Sunland-Tujunga), is the author of many fine works. His book entitled Strange Fire was published by Nelson Books in 2013. He is also a major force behind the “Strange Fire Conferences,” videos of which are readily available for viewing on the internet. Pastor MacArthur, whom I highly regard and respect, holds a cessationist point of view that considers the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 as no longer operative in the Church today.

Michael L. Brown has written a rebuttal to MacArthur’s book entitled Authentic Fire, published by Excel Publishers in 2014. He argues for the continuationist point of view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, as listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, are yet operative in the Church today. My wife, Katie Philpott, a Jewish believer in Jesus, as is Michael Brown, has for years enjoyed and profited from his work, especially his apologetics series, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, published by BakerBooks.

We travel a somewhat different road than either of these respected Christian leaders. After agonizing over the issues presented by both men, we find ourselves, as noted in the first paragraph of this chapter, straddling the theological fence. It is not a case of being unable to make up our minds or desiring to somehow distance ourselves from the controversy; rather it is that our semi-cessationist or semi-continuationist view, which is not considered by either MacArthur or Brown, is closer to how we see things biblically.

This view is simply that the charismatic gifts do continue in the Church but are rarely seen in “normal” times like they might be seen in “awakening” times.

If we had to choose sides we would declare with Pastor MacArthur. Twice in his book Brown mentions “trance” and acknowledges that charismatic/Pentecostals will experience these states of consciousness and that they are acceptable. This is problematic, because the same is found in the shamanistic religions examined in this book. In fact, the trance state is the door opener to the soul journey and essential for these demonic and pagan religious practices. The growing presence of trance states experienced in charismatic/Pentecostal worship, especially as produced by certain forms of music, is too dangerous to ignore.

A warning against infusing Christian practice with the trance state has thus far been ignored by the charismatic/Pentecostal communities, perhaps because those who enter the trance states and begin prophesying in these venues are admired and achieve a higher status than those who do not, just as in shamanism, Santería, and Wicca. This trend is nearly out of control in the Pentecostal settings of some third world countries, especially in Africa.
Those who enter trance states, no matter where, how, and why, expose themselves to demonic spirits and will eventually need to face the reality of their spiritual condition and seek deliverance from demonic oppression.

Prophecy – a source of confusion

One last point: The concepts of prophet and prophecy are key sources for causing confusion. Both MacArthur and Brown accept a similar point of view when it comes to prophecy (one against and the other for) and view it as a foretelling rather than a forthtelling. Our view is that the prophet declares, proclaims, or preaches the Word of God as revealed in the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Nothing new or additional needs to be revealed. The command of Jesus is clear: we are to be witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this witness, in our view, directs the work of prophets.

The Warning – not made lightly

We do not relish the possibility of being seen as discouragers of people, causing them to question their view of God. While it is more enjoyable to encourage and applaud efforts to establish a deeper relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth, I must come back to the reality that if it can be reasonably discerned that someone will run into danger just beyond the curve in the road, it is negligence not to raise the alarm and call out for caution.

Tolerance and diversity are two concepts that are much applauded and honored, and to a degree, rightfully so. Blind acceptance, however, can be dangerously negligent. Fearing to offend or be seen as out of step with contemporary cultural ideals may result in allowing error to go unchallenged. This we cannot do.

At the heart of this book is a warning against the mental, emotional, and spiritual danger that lurks in the trance state, which is the gateway to the “soul journey,” which is the means of introducing the soul journeyer to the world of demons. Wherever it might be encountered, in shamanism, Santería, Wicca, the occult, or unbiblical Christian forms of prayer or worship, the trance state is the connection between them.

Christians have always stood against unbiblical theologies, doctrines, and methodologies. The examples of this are abundant in Scripture, with Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and in the New Testament with Jesus and Paul, but also in the biblical books written by John, James, Jude, and Peter. They did not do so out of spite or ill will, but out of a concern to point out the dangers of counterfeit spiritualities and practices.

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Last Update: 2016-09-01 12:11