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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

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The news story couldn’t have been more direct: “There may now be more Americans who identify as practicing witches… than there are members of mainline Presbyterianism.”

Oh my.

Even worse:

“… Wicca has effectively repackaged witchcraft for Millennial consumption. No longer are witchcraft and paganism satanic and demonic… it’s a ‘pre-Christian tradition’ that promotes ‘free thought’ and ‘understanding of earth and nature.’”

Now for the worst of the worst:

“Despite biblical warnings against the practice of witchcraft, the Rev. Valerie Love, who describes herself as a practicing Christian witch and an ordained minister of spiritual consciousness, is insisting that there is nothing wrong with Christians being witches and has recently launched a school to help Christians tap into magic.

“‘Stop thinking you can tell people how to worship. Stop thinking you can tell people how to connect with the divine. I could tell you how many people have told me, “You can't be a Christian witch” but here I am. See, you can’t tell me how to worship. You cannot tell me how to connect with the divine. That’s between me and God. You cannot tell me how to pray,’ a defiant Love declared in a recent rant on Facebook.”

I think it’s time for some biblical theology. 

As mentioned in a previous blog, one of the marks of the world of the occult is any attempt to gain and master paranormal power in order to manipulate or influence other people into certain actions. This would include all forms of witchcraft and the casting of spells.

Yes, this includes Wicca.

When you think of a witch, or classical witchcraft, you think of one who uses black magic, a process of working harm through contact with an evil spirit or, more specifically, Satan. That was a deeply medieval concept of witchcraft. Today, witchcraft is more commonly seen under the title of Wicca. Don’t get me wrong—people can and do dabble in the direct attempt at black magic by purposefully invoking the powers of Satan or a demon. But most are into witchcraft another way.

Wicca is among the fastest-growing religions in the country. Almost half a million people practice it in the United States alone. A book titled Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation sold more copies for its publisher than any other book in its 95-year history. Websites devoted to Wicca have been cited as the most visited religious websites on the internet. 

While they do not deny they are practicing witchcraft, Wiccans say that theirs is a harmless magic. Many come to Wicca after reading a history of the faith, its teachings and its rituals called The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess; a book that was written under the name Starhawk, who is actually Miriam Simos, a California witch. 

In her book, Simos claims that the religion of Wicca began 35,000 years ago and that its early adherents worshiped a female god and lived for thousands of years in societies that were egalitarian, attuned to nature and focused on women. Then invaders swept across the region, introducing warrior gods and a male-dominated society. That was followed (she says) by Christianity, after which religious and secular authorities began (she claims) a 400-year campaign to kill what she calls “the old religion.”

Now none of that is historically accurate.

Even respected mainstream secular journals such as the Atlantic Monthly and others have revealed that not a single element of the Wiccan story is true. Scholars have concluded that Wicca is a 1950s concoction influenced by Masonic ritual and the world of the occult. It was actually created in its present form by Gerald Gardner, an English civil servant and amateur anthropologist who died in 1964.

But the power of the movement remains.

Those who practice it talk about the tie it gives them to the earth’s cycle of birth and growth, and that it brings a sense of the spiritual to their life. Rather than a blatant worship of Satan, though they don’t rule out worshipping anything or anyone, most Wiccans follow a nature-oriented belief system that is polytheistic—believing in many gods and many goddesses, built around the worship of the Great Mother Goddess. In a similar vein to the earlier New Age movement, Wiccans believe that all things in nature – plants, rocks, planets – have a spirit. If you want a really good popular presentation of this worldview, just watch Avatar.

The philosophy is simple: There is no such thing as sin, only the need to elevate the self—the “god within.” When they cast spells, they claim that none of those spells are harmful or manipulative. They say they practice two kinds of magic: low magic, which tries to improve their everyday life, and high magic, which they use to try to change themselves.

They don’t deny that magic can be misused for wrongdoing – though they don’t exactly define what they mean by “wrong” – just that they don’t do those kinds of spells. There is even a priesthood, which is entered into through various sexual rites that I don’t need to go into here. 

Because the term “witch” has historically been so loaded with bad press, they originally chose to use the term “Wicca” or “Wiccans,” that comes from the word “witch,” and means one who works with natural forces in order to shape or bend them. Some refer to themselves as neo-pagan, which simply means new pagans. But now that it’s become more mainstream, more and more people are just calling themselves witches.

So what does the Bible say about this?

The Bible talks about witchcraft in all of its forms, whether it’s “black magic” or Wicca. Because no matter its form, the dynamics are the same. And the Bible speaks to those dynamics. It speaks to those who engage in sorcery, those who try to use magical formulas, or incantations and those who try and exercise control over the world or themselves through some type of paranormal power.

This is very dangerous because there is no “power” floating around out there. There’s God or Satan, there’s heaven or hell, there’s good or evil. And all forms of witchcraft are strictly forbidden in the Bible as being tied to the occult and the work and world of the evil one.

For example, in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, the Bible says: “Let no one be found among you who... practices... sorcery... engages in witchcraft or casts spells... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

And in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes these words in his letter to the Galatians: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality... idolatry and witchcraft... I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21, NIV)

Let’s have remorse there are more Wiccans than Presbyterians.

Let’s regret that culture has made witchcraft so mainstream.

But let’s repent that there is even a hint that any of this can be considered Christian.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Brandon Showalter, “Witches Outnumber Presbyterians in the US; Wicca, Paganism Growing ‘Astronomically,’” The Christian Post, October 10, 2018, read online.

Leonardo Blair, “Christian Witch Claims Christ Followers Can Practice Witchcraft, Despite Biblical Warnings,” The Christian Post, October 19, 2018, read online.

“How many Wiccans are there? Estimates for the U.S., Canada, etc.,” Religious Tolerance, read online.

According to hitbox.com, the website is “The Witch’s Voice” found at Witchvox.com

The Atlantic Monthly, January, 2001.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

*Editor’s Note: In light of the news that Sears has now officially filed for bankruptcy after 137 years of business, the Church & Culture team thought it would be timely to reissue this blog post from last year on its pending demise and lessons for the church. 

I’ve previously written about what the church can learn from the retail slide into the economic abyss. But an article in the Washington Post, delving into the big missteps that brought American retail icon Sears to the edge of collapse, held too many parallels not to revisit the retail world again in (hopefully) ever enlightening ways.

I am old enough to have grown up with Sears. Kenmore washers and Craftsman tools were the mainstay of every home. Christmas? That was easy. It was no more – and no less – than the Sears “Wish Book.” I remember to this day pouring through its pages, circling specific toys and dog-earring entire pages.

Sears Roebuck & Co. began in the 19th century as a mail-order business for selling such things as watches, but quickly grew into a catalogue that sold everything from saddles to sewing machines largely to a rural nation. The combination of low prices, vast selection and mass production proved electric. They followed catalogue success with brick-and-mortar department stores, building off of the new mobility of automobiles.

Sears quickly became the country’s largest and most powerful retailer. Sears sold everything—cars, houses… everything. By the 1970s, 1 out of every 204 working Americans worked at Sears. The publishing of their catalogue alone made them the nation’s largest publisher. “Sears was regarded as a national institution, almost like the Post Office,” said Gordon L. Weil, who chronicled the history of Sears in a 1977 book.

So what can churches learn from its seeming demise?

Here are three big takeaways:

1.      They lost their focus.

With ventures into Discover cards and Coldwell Banker real estate, their attempt to diversify led them away from both core competencies and market focus. In other words, by diversifying they got distracted from their core business.

What is the church’s “core business?”

I would argue that it is simple: evangelizing the lost, assimilating the evangelized, discipling the assimilated, and unleashing the discipled. It is not recreation leagues, fall festivals, egg rolls, blood drives, family life centers or the Boy Scouts. Driving the dagger further, it is also not singles’ ministry, men’s ministry or women’s ministry. 

2.      They didn’t get out of the malls.

Sears depended on malls. When malls began to decline – or at least when shopping diversified beyond the malls, not least of which by going online – Sears stuck to the malls. 

And then began dying with them.

Want a quick comparison? Amazon stock trades at more than $1000 a share; Sears for less than $10.

Too many churches link methodology with orthodoxy. In other words, a way of doing things linked with being true to the faith. It’s a recipe for decline. There is nothing sacred about being in a mall, just as there is nothing sacred about doing Sunday School. 

Back in the very early 90s, I wrote a little book for the Southern Baptist Convention (on “Convention Press” no less) titled, Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth. It’s out of print, so don’t bother looking for it. The foreword was written by a then-unknown friend of mine out of California named Rick Warren. 

The point of the book was simple: since 1971, the front door of the church had shifted from Sunday School to the worship service. Today, it’s an idea that is a “given.” When I wrote about it, it was declaring all-out war on some very protected turf. I might as well have said, “Jesus is not a member of the Trinity.” 

But that’s the point. We can guard methods as if they are doctrines. 

They aren’t. 

And if we treat them like they are, we go down like Sears.

3.      They didn’t innovate fast enough.

Have you heard of “Sears Grand?” Probably not. And that’s the problem. Designed to compete with Walmart, it was rolled out too slow. As in only 10-20 stores per year. In comparison, there are now nearly 5,000 Walmarts operating in the U.S. alone.

And online shopping? 

Not a priority. At least in terms of investing for success. From 2006 to 2008, the Sears website went down for hours at a time on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And, according to the Washington Post, Sears seemed unconcerned. They “expected” it to happen.

Oh my.

So slow on innovation, and cavalier toward efficiency and effectiveness in areas of innovation.

Sears says it is hanging on.

To those who forecast its imminent death, a company representative said, “The folks who are playing taps at our funeral, we’re not in the box.” Going further, a Sears spokesman said: “People are shopping us to the tune of $20 billion in revenue. Clearly we mean something to a lot of people.”

But are they meaning something to the coming generations? The very future of Sears?

A professor at the University of Florida recently asked his students whether they have shopped at Sears in the past year.

Zero hands went up.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Sarah Halzack, “The Big Missteps that Brought an American Retail Icon to the Edge of Collapse,” The Washington Post, June 1, 2017, read online.

Emily Sullivan, “Sears, Drowning in Red Ink, Finally Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy,” NPR, October 15, 2018, read online.

Michael Corkery, “Sears, the Original Everything Store, Files for Bankruptcy,” The New York Times, October 14, 2018, read online.

Charisse Jones & Nathan Bomey, “Sears Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection, to Close 142 More Stores,” USA Today, October 15, 2018, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

Amanda, a 28-year-old Los Angeles resident, prays nightly and believes in Jesus.

She also chants, goes to Kundalini (yoga), meditates with a group and is into crystals. “The energy they hold is this ancient energy,” she said. “It helps your own energy when you work with them; when you’re near them.”

According to a recent Pew Research poll, she’s not alone. Most Americans “mix traditional faith with beliefs in psychics, reincarnation and spiritual energy that they say can be found in physical objects such as mountains, trees and crystals.”

A staggering 41% of Americans believe in psychics. A stunning 42% believe spiritual energy can be located in physical objects. 

I recently did a series on the paranormal. You can get the installments in .pdf or .mp3 format HERE. I could tell it was one of the more eye-opening series I had ever done. Why? Because people genuinely didn’t know the difference between authentic spirituality and the world of the occult.

I started off by mapping the spiritual world, specifically the great spiritual conflict in the heavens and the nature and work of angels and demons.

Then I took the rest of the series to walk through the three marks of the occult:

1. The disclosure or communication of unknown information unavailable to humans through normal means. This involves things like horoscopes, fortune-telling, psychic hotlines and tarot cards.

That knowledge comes from somewhere—and if it’s not from God through the sources God has ordained, then it is through the evil one and his forces. There is no neutral and impersonal “Power” just floating around out there. Nothing that has a voice or can be tapped into—some kind of cosmic consciousness for secret knowledge about the future of a human life. Everything falls under heaven or hell, good or evil, God or the evil one.

Just so we’re clear:

“You have trusted in your wickedness... your wisdom and knowledge mislead you... Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away... keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries... let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month... they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves... each of them goes on in his error.” (Isaiah 47:10-15, NIV)

“... diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.” (Zechariah 10:2, NIV)

“I am the Lord, the Creator of all things. I alone stretched out the heavens... I make fools of fortunetellers and frustrate the predictions of astrologers.” (Isaiah 44:24-25, GN)

“Let no one be found among you who... practices divination or... interprets omens... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

2. The placing of persons in contact with supernatural powers, paranormal energies, or demonic forces. This involves things like spiritual energy in a crystal or any other entity, attempting to summon up a spirit or a deceased relative through a séance, channeling a spirit, or procuring the services of someone claiming to be a medium. 

Here is Scripture’s clear witness:

“Let no one be found among you who... is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?” (Isaiah 8:19, NIV)

So what is happening when you get in touch with a ghost? It’s not a ghost. There is no such thing as a ghost. So what happens at a séance when Uncle John suddenly seems to appear or to talk through a medium? You are either being tricked (and many really are just flat out hoaxes) or you are in contact with a demon impersonating who you hoped to connect with. The first scenario makes you out to be a fool; the second is simply nightmarish.

But in both cases, you are receiving knowledge, contact and advice that is not of God—it’s either of human origin or of demonic origin. Look at the words on this from the prophet Jeremiah:

“So do not listen to... your diviners... your mediums... They prophesy lies to you... ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name.’” (Jeremiah 27:9-10, 15, NIV)

3. Any attempt to gain and master paranormal power in order to manipulate or influence other people into certain actions. In other words, all forms of witchcraft and the casting of spells. Being clear on this is important because of the rise of modern day witchcraft, which goes by the name of Wicca.

Again, Scripture is clear:

“Let no one be found among you who... practices... sorcery... engages in witchcraft, or casts spells... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

So there you have it. A map of the supernatural world. On the one side you have God and His faithful angels. On the other side the world of the paranormal, or the occult, which is the world of Satan and his demons. These are the only two worlds. These are the only two forces. These are the only two sets of beings.

There isn’t anything else.

One of them is good, the other is evil. There are a lot of ways, sadly, that Satan and his team seduces us to engage the evil side—to open our lives to it and to invite it in without even knowing it. And when we do, whether we are aware of it or not, we are engaging the forces of darkness. 

We are connecting with Satan and his demons. 

We are willfully opening up the door of our life to their presence and activity.

And they will enter.

And nothing could be more dangerous.

Initially it might seem benign, even innocent, for as the Bible says, Satan positions himself as an angel of light. But then the evil engulfs you.

And it’s even more than playing with fire. It’s dousing yourself with gasoline and then lighting the match.

It is spiritual suicide.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Yonat Shimron, “New poll finds even religious Americans feel the good vibrations,” Religion News Service, August 29, 2018, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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