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Spiritualism’s Slippery Slope

Part 5, Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?

Have Heart: bridging the gulf between Heaven and earth
A Review and Commentary (continued)

Read Herescope’s Introductory Comments
Read Part 1: Normalizing Necromancy
Read Part 2: The “Canaanization” of the Church
Read Part 3: Spontaneous Spiritualism

Read Part 4: Interpretation by Imagination

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For [among other abominations] he . . . practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger.”
(2 Chronicles 33:1-2, 6, NASB)

In addition to misusing particular texts of Scripture while ignoring others, Have Heart contains an obvious eschatological (eschatology deals with events which are future) problem. As the Bergers propose, to be able to make “supernatural visitations” to the living-in-Christ requires that the dead-in-Christ possess “supernatural bodies” now, that their soul-spirits reside in a glorified materiality in which they can make trips from Heaven to earth and back (the Bergers call these trips missions). But as the New Testament explains, the bodies of dead-in-Christ have not yet been raised unto glory. Their bodies remain asleep in the grave. Nevertheless, to demonstrate that the dead-in-Christ possess the materiality to manifest themselves to the living-in-Christ, the authors propose an eschatology for the resurrection which departs from the New Testament.

When the Resurrection Body?
Resurrection “Now”
If the living in heaven could make “supernatural visitations” to their loved ones on earth, it would require two things: that they possess the supernatural “materiality” and familial “connectivity” to do so. If that were the case, then just as Jesus appeared in His glorified body to His disciples and loved ones after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), so in like manner the “dead in Christ” could visit their family and friends. In these resurrected and glorified bodies, the souls of the dead-in-Christ in Heaven would possess “the technological transport” to make their presence known to the living-in-Christ on earth.

Because of Supernatural Materiality
Have Heart proposes that because the dead-in-Christ possess bodies “characterized by glory and honor and power and supernatural abilities,” they have the capacity to appear to loved ones and friends on earth. (HH, 62-65) The Bergers state:

This is so radically important for us to understand as we go through the grieving process: you will be raised to Heaven with this new and better body, and all the believers who have gone before you already have theirs. They are raised in glory, living gloriously right now with God. (Emphasis added, HH, 63)

Again, the book states:

When you think about Christ’s resurrected body, with all of its unique abilities—including miraculously appearing (John 20:26), instantly disappearing (Luke 24:31), and flying (Acts 1:9)—its pretty exciting to think we’ll have the same kind of body and that our loved ones who are with Jesus have one right now. (Emphasis added, HH, 64)

In the aftermath of the death of a loved one, the Bergers believe the grief-stricken on earth may find comfort when in their “supernatural” bodies, the deceased make their “presence” known to them, as when their son Josiah appeared that evening to Mr. Jim in Grace Chapel’s sanctuary. That the dead in Christ can make such appearances is premised upon Jesus’ appearances to His disciples after His resurrection, but the Bergers also employ diverse experiences to back up their revised interpretation of Scripture.

Because of Familial Connectivity
For the Christian dead to make “supernatural visitations” to loved ones on earth also depends upon their being “connected” to those living on earth. The Bergers derive this connectedness from Paul’s rich theological expression (used scores of times by the apostle) that Christians are together “in Christ.” (HH, 108-109) “We are one body,” write the Bergers, “connected in Heaven, and connected between Heaven and earth.” (Emphasis added, HH, 110) Because all “are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5, NASB), the Bergers then leap to infer that the in-Christ-in-Heaven have “visitation rights” with the in-Christ-on-earth. Whether by dreams, visions or visitations, those in Heaven can supposedly manifest themselves to their family and friends on earth. We are family!

Resembling the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “communion of the saints,” this connectivity is the “maximum” view of what Heaven is like, they say. If Christians do not accept this “connectivity scenario,” their view of heaven is “minimalist,” and in today’s consciousness-expanding world, what Christian wants to be thought of as narrow-minded? But not surprisingly, the New Testament does not support such a view of Heaven. According to God’s Word, the resurrection, the reception of a glorified body by all those in Christ, has not yet happened (See 2 Timothy 2:16-18.). It’s future.

Resurrection “Not Yet”
It may surprise those fascinated by this enticing resurrection scenario created by the Bergers that according to the Bible “the dead in Christ” do not possess “supernatural bodies” with “supernatural abilities” at this point in human history. They have not yet been physically resurrected. Jesus said this will occur at “the last day” (John 6:40), at a time coordinate with His Second Coming, also known as His Parousia or Second Presence.[62] About the timing of the resurrection of believers and their reception of a glorified body, the New Testament is unequivocal. Paul coordinates the timing of the resurrection and translation of all those “in Christ” with the Parousia. Read the Apostle’s words to the Corinthians:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming [Literally, “at the parousia his”]. (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; See Matthew 24:3, 7.).

Note two things stated in this timing text: first, in the “firstfruits” analogy, Paul states that the type of resurrection body believers are to receive will be like Christ’s; second, as to time, these resurrection bodies will be created by God at Christ’s coming (i.e., His Parousia).

The Apostle also times the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” to be contemporaneous with the translation of the living-in-Christ (a.k.a. the Rapture of the Church). Paul states the simultaneous translation of the living-in-Christ and the dead-in-Christ at Jesus’ Parousia as follows:

The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air…. (Emphasis added, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Furthermore, when all those who were, are or will be “in Christ” appear “with Christ,” then their true identity will be revealed. In that moment of truth, their physicality will reveal their spirituality. Every observer will be aware of a Christian’s true identity in Christ. As Paul states, “the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, NASB). As he told the church at Colossae, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear [Greek, phaneroo], then shall ye also appear [Greek, phaneroo, “to make visible what has been hidden or unknown”] with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). In a similar vein, John wrote:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear [phaneroo] what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear [phaneroo], we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)

So in light of the coming manifestation of the “sons of God,” John exhorted believers against hypocrisy. He told them:

“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear [phaneroo], we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming [parousia]” (1 John 2:28).

The point of this whole discussion is this: departed Christians can’t visit loved ones on earth in glorified bodies because they do not yet possess them. Currently, their bodies are “asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15). Christ’s appearing will be our unveiling, and all those “in Christ” from all ages will be glorified together, and not before the time the Lord has determined.

Why “Not Yet”?
Scripture pictures the bodies of believers, no matter how they might have been lost at the end of this life—cremation, incineration, cannibalized, lost at sea, etc.—to be asleep awaiting resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming. Though from earth’s perspective their bodies are asleep (not consciously present on earth), they are, as the Bergers and the Bible point out, alive, active and aware (consciously present in Heaven). I think the apostle Paul pictures “the dead in Christ” as asleep for at least two reasons.

First, though Christians rightly sorrow at the sting of death, they do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Their loved ones who died in Christ are merely taking their beauty rest. When Christ returns, their bodies will wake up!

Second, Paul describes the bodies of the dead in Christ to be asleep so that there will be no confusion as to their activity, whether ethereal or material, on earth. They do not appear and make visits to loved ones and friends. They are asleep. That the bodies of the dead in Christ are asleep insulates the Bible against endorsing apparitions in any form, period. Why? Because Christians live by faith, and the death of Jesus on the Cross for their sins and His resurrection for their justification is sufficient cause for them to believe. That’s the Gospel!

Then, when Jesus comes again, all glory and honor will be accorded to Him when at the end of time, He brings the bodies of all the dead in Christ back to life “together.” (2 Peter 3:9-13.). But until that day, the day of Jesus’ Parousia, the dead in Christ are not present and active on earth. This may not be how Have Heart imagines the afterlife, but it is as the Bible illumines it. In the meantime, we need to let the dead alone and let them sleep. As Samuel rebuked Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15).

What is Heaven like Now?
All that is known about the state of a person’s soul after it is separated from the body (death is the separation of the pneuma from the soma, James 2:26, “the body without the spirit is dead”), is what God has revealed to us. As Dr. René Pache (1904-1979) informs:

None of those raised in either Old Testament or New Testament times recounted a thing, as far as we know, about the experience of going through death into the abode of the dead. Our curiosity could well make us want to question them about it, but God has not permitted this.[63]

We are informed little about the afterlife because we live by faith, and “faith is… the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In our present state of being, we only “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Intermediate Bodies?
Though I am aware many theologies represent the dead in Christ to be alive in a “disembodied state” in Heaven now, there is biblical evidence that may not be the case.[64] For instance, Jesus revealed the state of Lazarus and the Rich Man to be “bodied” (Lazarus had a “finger,” and Dives [the rich man] had a “tongue,” Luke 16:19-31.); Matthew refers to the appearance of Moses and Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-8); Moses and the historian refer to the translations of Enoch and Elijah respectively (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11); Jude tells of the contest between Michael and the devil over Moses’ remains (Jude 9); and John sees that deceased believers are dressed in “white robes” (Revelation 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14). It’s difficult to see how robes (materiality) hang on souls (immateriality).

Further, Paul tells us “that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Obviously, if the “tabernacle” refers to believers’ earthly bodies, then “building” may correspond to their heavenly bodies.

Because of this biblical evidence, some Bible teachers postulate that, short of the glorified materiality that will be given their bodies at their resurrection at Christ’s Parousia, saints who die “in Christ” and are in Heaven possess an intermediate and temporary body. If that is the case, then in contrast to a dualistic belief which holds that matter is evil and spirit is good, possession of some intermediate materiality in the afterlife would highlight that God views the union between matter and soul-spirit to be “good” because He created it so!

When facing the death of a loved one, the relief for grief is belief, belief in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, who by His resurrection conquered death. With the prospect of His death at hand, Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (Emphasis added, John 14:1). Based upon Jesus’ words to His disciples, Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) offers this compelling counsel:

Faith in the Lord Jesus is the only sure medicine for troubled hearts…. To believe more thoroughly, trust more entirely, rest more unreservedly, lay hold more firmly, lean back more completely—this is the prescription which our Master urges on the attention of all His disciples. No doubt that little band which sat round the table at the last supper had believed already…. Yet what does their Lord say to them here? Once more He presses on them the old lesson with which they first began: ‘Believe! Believe more! Believe on Me!’[65]

After Lazarus’ death, Jesus told Martha: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (Emphasis added, John 11:25-26).

Why does the Lord place so great an emphasis upon belief amidst grief? Because, “The just shall live by faith” (Emphasis added, Romans 1:17) and “faith is… the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith deals with the unseen, with those things not entered into by direct physical experience. The Christian expectation regarding the afterlife rests upon Jesus Christ’s resurrection and His promised coming again. The retrospect of His resurrection and the prospect of His return are our assurances “of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB). Reported visitations to and from Heaven both distract and subtract the believer’s attention from the “blessed hope… the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

When David’s young son dies (a child born out of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba), he, after mourning, praying and fasting that the boy’s life might be preserved, states:

But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (Emphasis added, 2 Samuel 12:22-23)

We observe David’s words of faith: I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. David knew his son would neither visit nor appear to him after he died. But David believed that when he died, he would go to be with his son.

I fear, with the growing emphasis on reports of Christians visiting Heaven, or of receiving visits from Heaven, whether solicited or not, that the evangelical church is stepping onto the “slippery slope” leading to spiritualism and spiritism, something practiced by the Canaanites and forbidden by God’s Law (Deuteronomy 18:9-15; Leviticus 19:31; 20:6.). In 1970, Victor Ernest offered these cautionary words:

Spiritualism is very attractive because it promises knowledge of the future and communication with dead loved ones. Many people will be influenced by demonic spirits in this way without realizing it.[66]

This explains why John told early Christians, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Ernest further noted: “God has forbidden humans to try to communicate with the departed dead; such attempts result in communication with deceitful spirits, known a ‘familiar’ spirits….”[67] The spirits are called “familiar” because people think they know them from life! There is an intimate disguise to the spirits’ guise, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel [messenger] of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

“Thus saith the Lord:
And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
(Isaiah 8:19-20)

Stay tuned for the conclusion to this whole series. . . .

Endnotes (continued):
62. Three New Testament terms refer to Christ’s Second Coming: parousia, which means arrival or presence (Matthew 24:27); apokalypsis, which means unveiling or disclosure (2 Thessalonians 1:7); apiphaneia, which means appearing (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
63. Pache, Future Life, 194.
64. Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2005): 1036-1043.
65. J.C. Ryle, Heaven, Large Print Edition (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000): 6-8.
66. Victor H. Ernest, I Talked with Spirits (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1970): Preface.
67. Ibid. 86.