The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 10 - Spiritualism Exposed

Teachers Comments
Jun 01 - Jun 07

Key Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17

Study Focus: Matt. 10:28; Eccles. 9:5; Isa. 8:19, 20; John 11:21–25; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; Matt. 24:23–27; Rev. 16:13, 14; 2 Thess. 2:9–12.

Introduction: Spiritualism is part of the devil’s scheme to promote the diabolical theory that we are gods and can live without God. Thus, spiritualism is the devil’s device to keep humanity on his side of the great controversy. To maintain any form of spiritualism is to be stuck on the side of the devil. To promote spiritualism, the devil changed the biblical definition of death and the Bible teaching about the nature of humanity. These false doctrines lay the groundwork for the spurious teaching that we are eternal and indestructible and that we continue to exist even beyond death. As a consequence, this deception opens the door to the dangerous belief that after we die we can continue to communicate with other people and even angelic beings.

The movement of the European Enlightenment embarked on a long, hard battle to eradicate all medieval forms of spiritualism, including communication with the dead. However, the Enlightenment failed in this endeavor. According to biblical prophecy, spiritualism will strike humanity with full force in the end times, preparing humanity for the last great deception in the great controversy. That is why God’s people are called to proclaim to humanity the true nature, and intentions, of spiritualism, as well as the biblical teachings on human nature, the nature of death, and the true hope of humanity. Our hope is not based on the erroneous notion of an immortal soul but on the assurance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and on an eternal relationship with Him.

Lesson Themes: This study focused on three major themes:

  1. The true essence, and intentions, of spiritualism in the context of the great controversy is to deceive humanity into entering a direct relationship with demonic forces.
  2. The Bible teaches that humans are unitary, integrated beings; that the first death is a temporary sleep; and that the second death is total annihilation, which is also the biblical depiction of hell.
  3. The true hope that the Word of God gives us is the resurrection of the entire human being and an eternal relationship with God.

Part II: Commentary

Designations and Historical Background

Modern spiritualism refers to the religious and/or philosophical belief that death is not the end of human existence. Rather, spiritualism contends that the spirit survives as an ethereal, immaterial, eternal, immortal soul. After death, these souls or spirits continue to develop and evolve, rapidly advancing to other dimensions and levels of existence and knowledge. Humans who are still in their bodies can contact these departed spirits, asking for help and guidance. These contacts could be done through specialists, such as mediums. Or one could personally contact these spirits through study and practice.

Generally, modern spiritualism is believed to have originated in Hydesville, New York, on March 31, 1848, with the Fox sisters, who claimed that a spirit communicated with them through a rapping code. In 1888, one of the sisters disclosed that all the rapping had been a hoax, but in 1889, she retracted her confession. Despite huge scandals of fraud, spiritualism spread in North America. By the end of the nineteenth century, several million middle- and upper-class Americans considered themselves spiritualists.

In the meantime, in the 1850s, Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, a French teacher known by the pseudonym Allan Kardec, developed spiritism. Spiritism teaches that humans are incarnations and reincarnations of immortal spirits that populate a transcendent sphere. Thus, while spiritism believes in the reincarnation of the eternal soul, spiritualism believes in the eternity of the soul without accepting the concept of reincarnation. While all spiritists are spiritualists, not all spiritualists are spiritists. Although there is some disagreement between these spiritualistic movements, they are all united by one belief: the immortality of the soul and the possibility of communicating with spirits after their death. In the second half of the nineteenth century, an increasing number of the educated elites of Europe embraced either spiritualism or spiritism, developing modern Western occultism. They organized themselves in numerous societies and associations, publishing an enormous quantity of books and articles on esoteric knowledge and magic.

The Immortality of the Soul

Modern Western spiritualists do not claim their belief in the immortality of the soul is new. Rather, they readily concede that this “knowledge” comes from the “ancients.” Indeed, the concept of the immortality of the soul can be traced back to the serpent’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Afterward, this false theology spread throughout the world, permeating entire cultures and creating entire religions, such as shamanism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, voodoo, and other local and regional pagan religions.

The immortality of the soul was the foundation of Greek philosophy, especially Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Middle Platonism, and Neoplatonism. Manichaeism and Gnosticism also built on the same concept. Tragically, through a syncretism with Greek philosophy, Christianity was also infused with the concept of the immortality of the soul. For this reason, even if many Christian denominations today have condemned spiritism, any Christian church that continues to hold fast to the concept of the immortality of the soul is especially vulnerable to spiritualism and occultism. As a result, some churches, such as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, have developed an entire cult of saints, who allegedly can hear prayers and respond by protecting and guiding the ones who appeal to them. The Protestant Reformers rejected the cult of the saints; however, the concept of the immortality of the soul is entrenched in most Protestant denominations, potentially opening them to spiritualist influences.

Two additional observations are important here. First, it is noteworthy that modern spiritualism emerged exactly during the same period, and in the same area, in which Millerite Adventism originated: in the northeastern United States during the 1840s. This emergence was the devil’s attempt to anticipate, and discredit, God’s work of proclaiming the second coming of Jesus and the three angels’ messages. God proclaimed these messages through the remnant church, which was confirmed through the gift of the Spirit of prophecy. One of the foundational teachings of the Adventist Church was to call people to reject the pagan belief of the immortality of the soul. The Adventist Church also called the world to return to the biblical teaching of the unitary human being. Adventists also urged humanity to hang its hope for the afterlife, not on surviving death as an immortal soul but on the resurrection that Jesus would bring at His second coming.

Second, the European Enlightenment or modernism, with its emphasis on science and scientific education and technology, promised humanity the extermination of superstitions, magic, witchcraft, and any contact with the supernatural. Perhaps the only success of modernism in this regard was to undermine the belief in the Christian God among Westerners. Otherwise, modernism never succeeded in uprooting the supernatural from Western society. As a result, Western society became secular and atheistic, without being free of spiritualism. On the contrary, the second half of the nineteenth century is known as one of the greatest revivals in the history of spiritualism, spiritism, occultism, witchcraft, and magic. By the end of the twentieth century, modernism itself struggled for survival, as postmodernist children were inundated with occultic stories—in the form of books, cartoons, and movies—replete with supernatural powers, magic, witchcraft, and communications with the dead.

Today, too, what are known as near-death experiences are now another manifestation of this same principle. And, unfortunately, even many Christians see them as proof that the dead immediately live on in another realm of existence.

Spiritualism and the Great Controversy

What is the role of spiritualism in the devil’s strategy amid the great controversy? By promoting spiritualism, the devil wants to explain, and confirm, his foundational deception that started the great controversy, namely:

• that God is not the only God, but that we are all gods;

• that we have life in and of ourselves;

• that we have a component (the soul) of our beings that is spiritual (immaterial, ethereal), indestructible, immortal, and eternal; and

• that we are morally autonomous.

Humanity’s fall into sin brought incommensurable suffering, destruction, and death, empirically proving the devil wrong. In this situation, humans would rightly doubt Satan’s thesis in which he stated that rebelling against God would not lead to death but to another divine level of existence and consciousness. Spiritualism in various forms, then, is the devil’s attempt to redefine death and affirm that only the body dies and that the soul transitions to a superior form of life.

The devil also uses spiritualism to lure or drive people to a direct, personal encounter with himself and his demons. The Bible clearly teaches that behind spiritualistic phenomena, as in the case of idolatry, stand demons themselves (1 Cor. 10:20). These encounters are dangerous, not only because they are deceptive (John 8:44) and generate impurity (Mark 5:2) but also because, many times, they lead toward demon possession, a situation in which demons control, and enslave, humans. For various reasons and as part of their strategy, demons cannot possess or control everyone in the same way. However, demonic forces are in the constant business of devising a large variety of snares to capture as many people as possible to side with them in the great controversy. The apostle Peter warns us that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8, NIV).

Christ’s Power

Despite the devil’s efforts, Christ’s healing of people possessed with demons (e.g., Luke 8:26–33, Matt. 12:45) demonstrated His power to deliver us from Satan’s control. Seventh-day Adventists proclaim Christ’s victory, not only at the end of the great controversy but here and now, in the midst of it. For this reason, at the 2005 General Conference Session, in St. Louis, Missouri, the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted an additional fundamental belief, number 11, that precisely highlights this point:

By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of humanity. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.”—Fundamental Belief Number 11, “Growing in Christ,”

Initially, this fundamental belief was necessitated by the situation in some parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, in which Christians, in general, and even some Adventists, were not clear that Scripture rejects all occult practices. In addition, even if Adventists in those areas did understand that the Bible opposes all spiritualistic practices, they were hesitant to break free of those practices and teachings because they were afraid of the retaliation of the spirits. Moreover, spiritualism, spiritism, and occultism are all pervasive realities, not only in Africa and Asia but throughout the world. Thus, fundamental belief 11 is for all people. Regardless of our cultural and social backgrounds, all people need the same message of the gospel: “ ‘My sheep listen to My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ ” (John 10:27–29, NASB).

Part III: Life Application

  1. What do people in your particular culture think about human nature and death? How can you share with them the truth about death, as taught in the Word of God?
  2. What do people in your culture think about hell? What can you and your church do in your society to promote the biblical understanding of hell?