Many rampant unbiblical theologies have been prevalent in the South African Church scene these last few years. There seems to be an overall idea that one manifestation should outdo the other. There is a focus on miracles and Christian character is seemingly compromised by flattering titles such as ‘Bishop’, ‘Prophet’ and ‘Daddy’. Unfortunately, some of these teachings, even though extreme, are nothing new. One of these prevailing teachings seems to be the ‘contact object teaching’. This is simply the idea that specific objects harness special potencies and become catalysts that have peculiar effects on people, situations, and circumstances.
One sentence I hear repeated over and over these days is that we should not judge! But there seems to be a difference between ‘judging” hypocritically (Matt.7:4-5) and to discern biblically as Christians. (Read: Eph.4:14-16). As Christians we are instructed to discern and weigh all matters of doctrine Biblically (Matt.7:1-6; 15-23, 19:28, 1 Tim.5:20, 1 Cor.14:29, 2 Tim.2:17-18;25, Heb.13:9, 2 Cor.11:14-15, 2 Tim.4:3, Gal.1:9, 1 Cor.2:14-16 etc). Interestingly we need to have our senses trained to discern between that which is good and evil (Heb.5:14). Further, we should stop swallowing everything that looks amazing and search the Scriptures like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
The power of objects or Idols.
The underline idea that the world is ruled by two opposing and very opposite powers is NOT a Christian one but rather one that was deduced from ancient Persian Gnostic religions. In Zoroastrianism, a Persian Gnostic religion, a good god rules the spiritual world and a bad god rules the physical realm. In such a philosophy, the problem of evil is solved by blaming everything that goes wrong on the bad god (the devil); the good god is seen as no more than a counterbalance. One is left with the impression that the two gods each possess equal power both in quality and quantity. Everything that is wrong in the world is the fault of the bad god. And it’s up to the initiate or believer to make sure the good god wins.We lend power to the ‘dark side’ by indulging in material objects that can project their potency. When the Christian is in possession of any amulet, object, or idol, these dark forces have the right to do their bidding in that Christians life. Can a specific or even foreign object have specific or even significant power and influence on your daily routine or even the welfare of your house? Can it allow certain Spirits to inhabit or even dominate and manipulate your general well-being? C. Peter Wagner reports that when moving into an office complex, which he had leased, he discovered it had a “grossly unclean statue at its entrance” (Breaking Strongholds Pg.65). In fact, with one of its ugly fingers the creature pointed directly to the window of his personal office! Concluding that its presence had invited demons to dwell on the premises, he declares that if the building had belonged to him he would have immediately removed the work of art. Since that was not an option, he pursued another course. He says: “Doris and I invited Cindy Jacobs to join us in an office cleansing when we first moved in. She broke the power of spirits inside the office and bound any forces of darkness attached to the statue. “Since then the offices have been peaceful and pleasant” (Pg.65-66).
Demonic transmission through objects
In their book “Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues”. Kraft, Murphy, Wagner, and Warner assert that demonic influence and power is transmitted through contact with certain physical objects, they do so largely on extra-biblical grounds. However they do occasionally appeal to the Bible in support of this doctrine. In defense of the idea that demonic influence is transmitted through objects, these authors develop two lines of argument. They argue, first, that the Bible directly teaches this a claim we will critique shortly. Second, they argue that this pattern is evident in the way God uses objects, that Satan and God (cf. Kraft 1994b:42), and that we may infer from God’s use of objects something about the demonic use of objects. We will address the second argument first, breaking the issue down into two questions: (1) Do these authors accurately understand God’s use of material objects when his miraculous power is exercised? And (2) what may we legitimately infer about the demonic use of objects from God’s use of objects? Kraft (1994b:47) argues that God invests places and things with power and cites the Ark of the Covenant (1 Sam 4:7), Jesus’ garment (Matt 9:20), and Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons (Acts 19:11-12) as biblical examples of this. In fact, the list of objects, actions, and words which play a key role in God’s supernatural activity could be extended much further. Aaron stretched his rod over the Nile to turn it to blood (Exodus 7:19-20). Moses stretched his rod over the Red Sea to open a path (Exodus 14:16, 21) and struck the rock at Horeb with it to bring forth water (Exodus 17:6). Elijah took his cloak, struck the Jordan River with it, and the river parted (2 Kings 2:8). Elisha used Elijah’s cloak to do the same (2 Kings 2:14).Elisha cut a stick and threw it in the water to cause the axe head to float (2 Kings 6:6). Jesus spoke to a storm: “Peace, be still! (Mark 4:39)” He mixed saliva and mud to heal blind eyes (John 9:6, 7). Moses’s rod, Elijah’s cloak, Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21), Jesus’ garment, Jesus’ saliva, and Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons were all physical objects or substances which were brought into contiguity or contact with persons or objects which were then supernaturally changed. Kraft is not wrong, then, when he detects certain parallels between the use of such objects in biblical narratives and their use in magic/animism. Both in magic and in biblical miracle contiguity and/or symbolic association are present. Jesus often touched people when he healed them. Or he spoke. Or he applied his own saliva to a mute tongue (Mark 7:33-34) or to blind eyes (Mark 8:23).
The function of contiguity or symbolic association in biblical miracle, however, is quite different from its function in magical or animistic thought. In magic and animism the assumption is that contiguity and symbolic association are themselves the key to power, its transmission, and its effects. Without contiguity and symbolic association, power is inoperative. In Scripture, however, there is no indication that God required such means for His power to be operative. In the Bible such associations are there, not because they are necessary for power to operate, but because they are an appropriate and helpful accommodation to communication and interaction with human beings. In the Bible miracles are called “signs” suggesting that they are communicative acts. Communicative acts require indexical or symbolic markers if communication is to occur. Jesus could have stilled the storm without uttering a word or moving a muscle. But in that case the event would simply have seemed strange and inexplicable. The disciples would not have known that Jesus did it. To communicate that a supernatural act was intended, there needed to be a visible action or sign connecting the emissary with the miracle. These acts are communicative acts designed to demonstrate a linkage between the miracle event and God’s emissary and carry specific prophet or apostle and that the message, therefore, should be believed. God also often required human communicative acts external displays of faith and obedience as a condition for God’s miraculous acts. Joshua and the Israelites were commanded to march around Jericho and blow their trumpets (Josh 6:3-5). Snake-bit Israelites were asked to look at a brass serpent (Numbers 21:8-9). Naaman was instructed to bathe seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10), and the man born blind was instructed to wash mud-smeared eyes at the pool of Siloam (John 9:7). One should not assume that the efficacy for Naaman’s healing resided in the waters of the Jordan, or that the fall or Jericho lay in how many times the Israelites marched around Jericho. Rather, the external acts provided people a means of responding and demonstrating faith, both to themselves and to others.
In an interesting interview I read with a Shaman lady, the interviewer, Diane, asks the question on the significance of some elements or rather “contact elements. She asks the shaman “Jade, why are ceremonial objects powerful? Jade Wah’oo answers: “There is a Spirit which resides within sacred implements, and Spirit requires he embodied presence of Power as it expresses itself in the world. In the non-human domain, we consider that sacred objects are equally alive – a drum, or a feather, a staff, a rattle, or whatever it may be. In the creation of a sacred object, as we give our attention through our intent, power is flowing into that object. As we then further utilize applications of power – our breathing, tobacco, or whatever it may be – we prepare the ground for spirit to come into full presence in that object. This happens when we have an actual relationship established – not a figment of the imagination, but an actual relationship.” I can remember in high school how certain “Jocks” would just refuse to take of and a wash certain pair of sox and even underwear because they deemed it to be good fortune and equally elemental to their wining streak or even good luck in a game. Recently my brother told me of a farmer that took chicken feet and white powder which he threw around his shed. He told all his workers that a Sangoma or witchdoctor was there to cast a spell of unthinkable misfortune to those that stole his tools or even thought to do so. Subsequently, in a week he had tools that returned and absolutely no problem with any theft. The ancient Samurai believed that his sword would embody his soul in battle. Some Catholics believes that certain icons, objects and images are endowed with special powers to bring good fortune, healings and even miracles.
In the Hebrew bible the Ark of the Covenant was central to their worship which God instructed Moses to make. (Exodus 26:31) Similarly the brass serpent was ordained by God for the salvation of Israel’s snakebites. King Hezekiah destroyed the Serpent which the Hebrew people burned incense to. (2 Kings 18:4.) Moses even had a rod that confirmed God’s power and wonders. (Exodus4:2-5.) Dr. Dallas Willard writes that “Idolatry …arises from the crying need of human beings to gain control over their lives. But idolatry tries to meet the need by assigning powers to and object of human imagination and artifice, powers that object does not actually possess…In the end, the idol is always intended to be the servant of the idol worshippers and their desires.” An Idol is a man-made material object or immaterial object in the form of a deity to which worship and adoration is directed. It is vitally important to see these elements working together in Idol worship. The first being a material object to which a Hebrew mind might see idolatry as the worship of a foreign idol or images and the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols as well as the use of images in worship to Yahweh. In the New Testament we are encouraged through Paul to “flee from idolatry” which could take immaterial concepts (2 Cor 10:2-4, 1Cor5:11 & 6:9-10, 10:14, Galatians 5:19-21, Eph 5:5 Col 3:5.) In the New Testament an Idol can be seen in reference to money, race, fame, sex. (Colossians 3:5.) Early Christianity grew familiar with these inanimate objects of secular religion surrounding them. The Roman Empire use to find ways for monotheistic Judaism to become more polytheistic. Antiochus in 168 BCE invaded Jerusalem and desacralized the Holy of Holies in the Temple by offering pigs on the altar in the Holy of Hollies. Some Jews, including Jason the high priest, chose to confront this desecration, and spawn a rebellion which is know as the Maccabian revolt.
Recently I watched a DVD Titled “Clean your house” where a man relates the story where an African Pastor confirmed that spirits and demons could manifest themselves through certain objects. He says these objects were probably prayed over by ceremonial witch doctors and sangomas. To confirm the validity of these views he stated that these spirits could have an effect on the daily run of things. The demons can “feast” on the altar of the object in your house. He also tells another story where a friend of him bought a Hippo in Zimbabwe that he put outside near the swimming pool. As a result the water under his house dried up and there was absolutely no logical explanation for this. A worker that came to solve his problem told him that it was the Hippo that allowed “water spirits” to dry up the wells. He subsequently destroyed the “contact point” or wooden Hippo and the water poured out and gushed forth. He also relates a story where a young boy wet his bed and was also fearful to sleep in his own room. Upon inspection they realized to their shock that he had a Spiderman bed set. The father very skeptical removed the bed set for a month and supernaturally all problems with the boy stopped. After a month he put it back and the first night the boy wet the bed again. From there on there is little proof for doubt that this is a scripturally confirmed doctrine begging for our co-operation and asking for our intention? He also sights another story to explain these truths; a Pastor Neville Norton went to Taiwan where they went to an ancient Buddhist temple. He asked about a hole behind the massive statue, and enquired as to what it’s for. The guide explained that there is a spirit that dwells in the hole to protect the statue from harm. Clearly we can assume that inanimate objects can contain demon spirits which could infest our lives and houses once we allow them any place in our houses. Even the very presence of these contact points can make God withdraw His presence and blessing. The working of the devil in your house could be legitimized even through war artifacts medals and old Anglo-Boer war sannas? Any dragon represents Satan and the very image of any form of dragon in your house would bring on God’s wrath. Pokemon, Dragonball Z, Ben10 and on and on goes the list of cartoon characters, bracelets, tatoo’s and piercing could be seen as a way of Idol worship and a grievance in God’s eyes. Santa Claus is a form of a substitute “Savior” to which the bible gives clear indication to this “red devil”. Clearly our intention makes no difference and worship is restricted to the mere presence of these abominations.
The truth about a lie.
Does the presence of experiential evidence compensate for the validity of any claim? In Germany there were actual claims in the early 19th century that if the human body was exposed to speeds above 80 miles an hour we would pass out? Or even worse die! Could assumptions without valid proof explain certain happenings? Assuming I am writing to a Christian audience I would love to indicate that the Christian life should never be apart or even separated by Christian experience, also the other way around. The problem in the above stories is simply that majority of the evidences gives was not sighted by biblical authority but rather ancient folklore and superstition. Paul exhorts Timothy to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves myths and endless genealogies. These produce controversies rather than God’s work- which is by faith.” Later he exhorts Timothy to preach the word and that some people will “turn their ears away from the truth to myths.” John Macarthur exhorts us that “Our faith should provide a basis for our experiences. A true spiritual experience will result of the quickening of truth in the Christian mind it does not occur in a mystical vacuum.” The problem we are facing is that any experience should not be based on any authority outside of scripture. Macarthur explains that “that kind of teaching opens the floodgates for believing that vital Christianity is one sensational experience after another.” The moment experience becomes the measure of truth, the validity of Mohammed’s cave and Joseph Smith’s angelic encounters become valid and reasonable. The famous philosopher David Hume believed that the aim of education was simply to base ones believes in experiences and that we learn through what he called “cause and effect.” We perceive reality only through practical experience. We are only the sum total of our experiences. Saying we learn only through what we experience without variable proof from any source of authority makes such statements vague and unreasonable?
Our source of authority as Christians stem from the Holy Scriptures which we call the bible as well as the revealed live of Jesus Christ through these sources and His Disciples or as we say Apostles. If we believe truth by its very nature is exclusive then we should believe that truth is substantially proofed beyond any doubt. Nowhere in Scripture and even the New Testament are convincing claims made that we have any form of Idols or inanimate objects that dictated the course of history or even the will of God. There is a lot of evidence that the human will usually is the greatest catalyst of evil and wrong doing. There is a constant appeal to dedicate the heart towards God and to flee sinful desires. There is no convincing evidence that we should “clean our houses” as suggested by this DVD or any further indication that we are locked in a constant battle to purify our houses. We are called to banish any foreign object that could infatuate our worship and allegiance to God. But nowhere can we find convincing evidence that objects have supernatural awe that could overpower us directly? We are rather called to drop the idols of our hearts. Colossians 3:1-10 says “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him” We are also instructed that the quest of the spiritual life is vastly overshadowed by putting of the old sinful desires and nature but equally invigorated by the “clothing of ourselves” to the virtues (V/12.) In fact, we are called to put on; not throw out any objects. (Ephesians 5:3-5. & Romans 13:8-14.) To shifting any responsibility and blame to demons for our sins of the flesh is pure Gnosticism. Clearly, Paul explains that idolatry is a heart condition. But nowhere is there any evidence that we should “clean our houses”. We are only called to clean our “spiritual houses and “put off” the sinful nature which seem to destroy us.”
John Macarthur says that “the worst extremes usually start with slight deviations.” In other words; half truths is still half a truth and to its own end a complete lie. Nowhere is a clear explanation given that an object in scripture has immaculate power. In the Second World War Adolf Hitler searched for the Ark of the Covenant and the spear of Destiny that pierced the side of Christ on the Cross because he truly believed that it had inherent power. Israel use to walk with the Ark out in front of them in battle, but the ark contained the image of God’s presence for their benefit, not God’s. God was nowhere confided to a box to express his presence or validate His power. He is omnipotent! If we hold unto this doctrine of “subversive objects” we seem to have no valid reason for this to be legitimate. Even more disturbing is our erroneous believes that negative objects are reasonably stronger than positive objects. And that objects can overwhelm God and leave Him powerless to express His will and desire. He promised us that “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews13:5) and if we say that any inanimate object has delegated power then we have to believe that all objects could inhabit some form of spiritual power and as a result the positive object should be stronger? To put it more practically, if you have a “foreign object” and a King James Bible on the same coffee table, do the positive and negative objects cancel each other out? Or will the negative object prevail? Or the positive object? If God is in control of your household to begin with, does it actually mean that your actions neutralize His ability to protect and cover you? Even worse, if God is the one that has the say in your household, does it mean you have the right to overwrite His will to allow curses to decent on yourself?
A Fixed gaze.
Clearly we are called to “keep our focus on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrew12:2.) Jesus no where instructed anyone to “clean their houses”, but he told them to sin no more. I would instruct that we should have no detestable and foreign idols in our houses and surely that we should rid ourselves from pagan practices. I will be the first to admit that I want no foreign god’s or pagan idols in my house for whatsoever reason it might be. But Exodus 20:2-3 explains to us that when we derive our identity from any “foreign” object for the sustenance of our own identity, meaning and destiny we can call those things Idols. The life application Bible commentary explains that “By the amount of time we devote to them, they can grow into gods that ultimately control our thoughts and energies. Letting God hold the central place in our lives keeps these things from turning into gods.”(Pg127) But our warfare is a battle for our hearts and mind “to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” and to “bring every thought into obedience to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.) Our war is the war for our very soul. And as Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11 “Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lust, which war against the soul” Why was God so outspoken and openly against these idols? The Israelites was surrounded by pagan nations who worshipped graven images. God knew that false god’s would bring false results and increase sorrow. (Psalm 16:4.) He also instructed them not to learn the ways and customs of other pagan nations because the results would lead to doom. (Jeremiah 10:1-6.) The operative words are ways and customs of these nations. The Hebrew word for these ways are “Derek” (deh’-rek) it means a road (as trodden); figuratively a course of life or mode of action, often adverbially: – along, away, because of, + by, conversation, custom, manner, passenger, through, toward.” Nowhere does it speak of the eradication of Idols, but the abolition of the whole “manner of life”. Customs are translated as chûqqâh (khook-kaw) meaning substantially the same: – appointed, custom, manner, ordinance, site, statute. The curse was as a result of the following of the ways and customs, not because of the Idols presence. Again, I would not have Idols in my house. But to believe that an inanimate object has mystical power is a pagan and secular objection, not a Christian one! In fact if you attribute any power to a given object, you are dabbling in Idol fixation and coveting. These notions that certain objects have a spiritual authority are derived from pagan tradition and bogus folklore.
But it seems to work?
God instructed Moses in Numbers 20 to “speak to the rock” not hit it, he hit the rock and it still gushed forth water, showing us that God will still perform His will even if it happens through our disobedience. The reason some of these “manifestations” seem to work is because the devil loves to give you “demonstrations” and God will sometimes perform what He wants to even if our methods are flawed. But the result for Moses was devastating; he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. The lesson is that we should rather walk in the authority of God’s word and subsequently believe that He has conquered! (Colossians 2:13-23.) When Joshua son of Nun fought against Ai in Joshua 7 & 8 we can clearly see that the recipient that made Israel loose was the greed (sin) of Achan (Joshua 7:21.) not the actual artifacts that he took! The commentary footnote in the Life Application bible explains this point with a lot of clarity. It says that “Achan underestimated God and didn’t take his commandments seriously (6:18) taking a robe , along with some silver and gold, may have seemed a small thing to Achan, but the effects of his sin were felt by the entire nation, especially his family. Like Achan, our actions affect more people than just ourselves. Beware of the temptation to rationalize your sins by saying they are too small or too personal to hurt anyone but you.” (Pg.324). The placebo effect could also be a contributing factor. In some studies at some leading universities two different test subjects were told that they received the exact same medicine for a given condition. Over a period of a few weeks both these test subjects were monitored. Interestingly enough both test subjects showed improvement in their given conditions. Only one had the cure, but a subsequent believe that they were treated created a psychosomatic response to healing. Adolf Hitler the Fuhrer of the 2nd world war said “if you tell a lie long enough, often enough, everyone will believe it.” Erroneously that is exactly what Christians do? They believe the opinion of others above the truth of God’s word. In the poem “a footnote in prayer” the great Anglican author C.S.Lewis writes:
“He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.”