Understanding and Resisting the Occult (Part 1)

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God (Deut. 18:9-13).

The above passage is the classic anti-occult text that is quoted from the Scriptures. It is a curious passage. By nature, it almost doesn’t seem to fit with the overall themes of the Bible. In the Evangelical tradition, we are trained to read the Bible in a philosophical way. We look for rules, laws, and guidelines for ethical conduct. We read of the miracles of Moses, Elijah, Christ, and the apostles that happened thousands of years ago. We find inspiration, faith, and encouragement from these miracle stories. We realize how powerful God is. But we fail to experience these kinds of miracles in our lives. And, as a quite unfortunate result, church people that have mystical tendencies, or a strong taste for the supernatural, get drawn into occultism in its various forms. The latest of which is found in the New Age movement.

In Christian seminaries and churches, there is a great lack of knowledge about the occult. And this is a very bad thing. If Christians can even bring themselves to take the supernatural seriously, which is often not the case, then they are still at a great disadvantage to discern the spirits–if they don’t know about the occult. If you do not know about the occult or the ways of demons and witchcraft, then you are bound to be deceived sooner or later. These occult powers are violently at work in the world today. They are trying to gain entry into your mind, your heart, and your homes. God forbids all forms of occultism in the above passage from Deuteronomy 18:9-13. But dear Christian, do you know about these things? They are very subtle, and difficult to detect in the modern world, but God still forbids them. Do you know about divination, sorcery, omens, witchcraft, spells, mediums, spiritists, and necromancers? Or do you think that they are only the stuff of mere imagination…material for a good Fantasy movie? The Word of God says that they’re real. So that means they’re real.

But, assuming you believe that these evil occult powers are still at work today–then what are you supposed to do about it as a Christian? The first step would be to gain more knowledge about these things. If God commands Christians not to practice these occultic sins, then how can we avoid them if we don’t know about them? We need to have some level of knowledge about the occult so that we can be careful not to sin against the Lord in this area. Especially if you are a Charismatic Christian or an Evangelical mystic, and you are seeking to go on to higher levels of spiritual power with Christ–then it is absolutely necessary to both know about the occult powers and resist the occult powers. I’ll be honest. I have a very surface-level knowledge about divination, sorcery, omens, witchcraft, spells, mediums, spiritists, and necromancers. But the more that Christians can learn about these things, and from a safe Evangelical point of view, then the better off they will be at “testing the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). I think a great place to start learning about these things is in Josh McDowell and Don Stewart’s Handbook of Today’s Religions (1983), Part II – Understanding the Occult. It deals with a lot of the occultisms that you see in the modern world and especially in the New Age movement. It thoroughly discusses topics such as astrology, fortunetelling, hypnotism, magic, Ouija boards, psychic surgery, spiritism (contacting the “dead”), and classic witchcraft.

If you want to go even further into the past, and get a more thorough understanding of classical witchcraft, then read the old Catholic books on the occult. This would include books like The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger (1486) translated by Montague Summers. Also, Francesco Maria Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum (1608) edited by Montague Summers. Also, a modern Evangelical work on the occult, which is a very thorough directory of occult practices and phenomena, is Kurt Koch’s Occult ABC (1978). The only weakness of this book is that it fails to distinguish between the occult phenomena found in witchcraft and the miraculous phenomena found in Charismatic Christianity. Koch thereby condemns the Charismatic movement, Kathryn Kuhlman, speaking in tongues, healing, dreams and visions, and ecstatic utterances–as entirely occultic. I think this is extremely wrong, seeing that the early church experienced all of these things (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12-14). But some Evangelicals have the mentality of “If it’s supernatural, then it’s occult.” That’s definitely wrong. Another great Evangelical book is Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Occult (2008).

Some Christians think it wrong to study about the occult, even for purposes of spiritual discernment. They think that this will “open them up” to demons and oppression. They misinterpret the Scripture, “I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned satan’s so-called deep secrets” (Rev. 2:24)–they think this means that Christians should never learn anything about the occult (i.e., “satan’s so-called deep secrets”). While any Bible scholar would tell you that “satan’s so-called deep secrets” were the revelations of the Gnostics–(who were no doubt an occultic group)–still, this is not in reference to having no knowledge whatsoever about the occult. It is about not holding to the teachings of the Gnostics. But modern Christians often reason, “Why study the counterfeit if you can study the genuine? Why study satan’s ways when you can just study the Word of God?” So they fear to study about the occult, but they sacrifice their ability to discern the spirits. The Word of God assumes that we should know about the occult in Deuteronomy 18:9-13. There is no getting around it. Psychics and fortunetellers abound. Halloween is celebrated every year. The Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Chronicles of Narnia are all very popular with Christian youth. And where there is no knowledge about the occult, there is no discernment about it. It is merely perceived as a “Fantasy” genre.

Church–wake up and smell the coffee of Jesus! God calls us to resist the occult, but we can’t resist it if we don’t know what it looks like. I said before that the occult is very subtle. It’s all over the place in the media, in the church, and in conversations. God tells Christians not to imitate these detestable occult practices. But how can you resist witchcraft if you don’t know what it is? “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Do you know what the devil does in the world? If you don’t, then how can you resist him when he begins to work on you? For, once you can “know thy enemy,” then you are in a strategic battle position to “resist thy enemy.” Only when you know the devil, can you “resist the devil,” so that “he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). In Jesus’ Name!

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