Animism in Christianity? Evangelical Use

Posted: April 19, 2013 in Animism, Missions
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Traditional churches are not alone in their use of ritual words for power. The word “Jesus”, or “in Jesus’ name” is also seen this way by many evangelical Christians. Most Christians probably assume that “in Jesus’ name” is a necessary formula for an exorcism; however, Acts 19:13-16 shows that it certainly isn’t some magical spell. The seven sons of Sceva tried to use the name of Jesus as an abracadabra, and paid dearly. Many evangelical Christians still see the King James English has having special efficacy. Is this any different from the Muslims who believe that Arabic is the only valid language for the Koran?[1]

Many Pentecostal practices at least look animistic on the outside, especially those that search for some kind of special power, granted through ritual, word, or specialist. Even back in the New Testament, the Corinthian charismatics “were always out for evidence. That is why tongues and healings and miracles were so highly esteemed among them. . . They were always out for power; they were elated by spiritual power and were always seeking short cuts to power.”[2]

“A number of Christo-pagan cults think of the Holy Spirit in terms of life force. As such, during religious rituals one may even snort in the Spirit, or while speaking, use short staccato-like gasps to inhale the Holy Spirit. . . Some followers of Pentecostal denominations demonstrate the same practices, which apparently bring power to religious exercises like worship and preaching. The Holy Spirit is here thought of as less of a person than an influence. When thought of in this way, the Holy Spirit is a power source to be tapped.[3]

      Faith is sometimes seen as a magical force, as well. More of it can produce better results and more efficacious healing. Pentecostals also tend to give more credence to specially anointed specialists, sometimes seeming to believe that the person possesses a unique power. Evangelicals of all stripes commonly use Bible verses as a means of making God do what He already promised He would do, in essence attempting to manipulate Him for our own agenda. Even the Bible gets treated as an object of power, as if it had magical properties invested in its paper and leather. Members of our Polish evangelical church have commented that we shouldn’t put our Bible on the floor – not just out of respect for God’s Word, but because it will bring bad luck.

So, how can animism be avoided, when we continually look for shortcuts to power? Philip Steyne devotes two chapters to this question in his book Gods of Power. Julie Ma also addressed this question when she wrote about the Santuala movement in the Philippines. According to Steyne, it is vital to understand, value, and interpret the Bible correctly. It is our guide, and correct application of its truth, especially as God related to Israel, helps us understand God’s relation to pagan animistic ideas. It must be well-understood and affirmed that God is wholly other. He is not part of nature, He does not need intermediaries, and He cannot be manipulated by ritual and sacrifice.[4] Dr. Ma also emphasizes Biblical guidance, but in a special appeal to her Pentecostal colleagues, to not focus just on miracles. She says that Santuala focused on blessings and healings, and lost the understanding that God’s blessing is freely given because of His relationship with His children. Instead, they retained the idea that a sacrificial offering was necessary to obtain God’s blessing. She also identified a lack of adequate teaching and no stable leadership as reasons the Santuala movement syncretized traditional religion with Christianity.[5]

As Christians, we need to remember that we don’t need shortcuts. God cannot be manipulated – and He doesn’t need to be. He is wholly separate from nature, but yet is present everywhere. We don’t need special rituals, words, or objects. Full of grace, He extends blessing and relationship to us, on the basis of His Son. Specialists – like priests and pastors – aren’t anointed conduits to God. They serve to encourage, exhort, rebuke, and explain the Word – but they aren’t irreplaceable, and they aren’t mediators.

Further Reading:
 Gods of Power, by Philip Steyne, 2005. Columbia, SC: Impact International Foundation.

Christianity and Animism in Taiwan, by Alan F. Gates.1979. San Francisco, Calif.: Chinese Materials Center.

Spirit of the Rainforest, by Mark Andrew Ritchie. 2000. Island Lake Press.

Visionary Vine, by Marlene Dobkin de Rios. 1972. Chandler Publishing Company.

What is Animism?

Animism in Christianity? Traditional Christianity

[1] Philip Steyne, Gods of Power, Columbia, SC: Impact International Foundation, 2005, p. 102.

[2] Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, p. 208-209.

[3] Steyne, p. 92.

[4] Ibid., p. 169-181

[5] Julie C. Ma, “Santuala: a Case of Pentecostal Syncretism”, Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 3/1 2000, p. 77-79.

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