Of Good Intentions and False Teachers

In the interest of clarity, let me start with the following statement. AnOldSinner has a concern about the prevalence of false teachers in the world today. It is somewhat based on my experiences as a young Christian, experiences that drove me away from the church. I do recognize my spiritual immaturity played a role in the situation, but the shortcomings of the pastors and teachers involved played a larger role.

With that said, there is reason to be concerned about false teachers. Believers have been warned about those who speak and teach falsely since Old Testament times, and not much has changed over the centuries, with one exception.

False teachers in modern times can have a much wider and more immediate impact than those who traveled by foot and donkey. Of course, there are false teachers, and then there are FALSE teachers. The difference is false teachers are those who are well intentioned but misguided. The other kind may have less noble reasons for misleading believers.

Today, I want to discuss something taught by a person I believe falls into the well-intentioned but possibly misguided class of false teachers. These are the people who feel called to teach the Bible, but do so without any formal training, education or the support of a recognized ministry or church.1

The teacher in question taught on a topic causing someone who follows AnOldSinner’s writings to feel a bit of concern and distress.  Broadly stated, the topic was communicating or attempting to communicate with someone who is deceased.

More specifically, the lesson approached this topic by answering three questions. “Is it Okay to Visit the Cemetery To Talk or Pray for the Deceased?” “What does the Bible Say About Talking to the Dead?” And, “Is it OK to ask God to deliver a Message To a loved One Who has died?”

The distress arose from the fact this individual engaged in some of these activities at times. Now, she wondered if she had committed a sin. Second, the reasoning used to support the conclusions that these were unacceptable activities for a Christian seemed to be in conflict with what she heard in other studies and from some pastors.

Initially, I was not too interested in involving myself in this matter. I was not present during the study. I had not seen the study materials, and I knew that the way one hears a lesson sometimes depends on one’s underlying biases and point of view. I did however, agree to review the study materials, and see if there might be a problem.

Given the information provided up to this point you likely know what I felt about the lesson. I found several problems. I also had some concerns about comments the teacher reportedly made while explaining the materials. Unfortunately, I cannot discuss them in detail as I did not hear them. It does seem however they would have been consistent with points made in the printed material.

The two problems I can discuss are the amount of information the lesson attempted to cover and the source material. The teacher attempted to deal with the three questions in one session. The reference or source material provided to the participants, and my review of the questions, lead me to believe each question might have deserved a lesson of its own. Perhaps the topics could have been covered in two sessions, but squeezing them all into one because they seemed related may have been a mistake.

As for the lesson material, it was taken directly from an online source which purports to answer questions about the Bible, Christianity, God and other matters of religion. It is in fact a source I cited in past essays and papers.   The problem in this case, if there is one, is that the handouts did not make it clear the material is from an online source. Also, it does not seem any other sources were considered or reviewed.

AnOldSinner references online sources such as the one from which the study material was taken because they are readily available to anyone with access to the internet. Normally, they are only referenced if the information provided is consistent with more formal or academic sources used in developing an argument, or as a counterpoint of some sort. Occasionally, One will be referenced to point out differences in opinions about translations or interpretation of Scripture.

It would be of little value at this point to go into a detailed analysis of the material used in the lesson which triggered this essay. The essays or articles used to develop the lesson used multiple citations in making the argument for that particular question or topic. Discussing them in depth would need more time and space than is acceptable in a blog post. Accordingly, please consider the following.

The primary focus of the lesson and the support material was the question of someone communicating with the dead. There was secondary concern of asking God to be the messenger in one’s communication with a deceased person, but the primary question concerned communicating with someone who was deceased. Additionally, it was clear this was communication with a deceased loved one or friend.

The conclusion of the three different essays or articles used for the study material in this case was it is not Biblical to communicate with the dead. In fact, according to the materials, it was specifically prohibited by the Bible. The problem is the primary passages used to support this conclusion are Deuteronomy 18:11 and portions of 1 Samuel 28.

Deuteronomy is clearly speaking of someone who practices witchcraft of some sort. Likewise, the passages relating to this topic in 1 Samuel 28 deal with witchcraft. In cases of this nature, according to every commentary at my disposal, the sin was not simply trying to talk to the dead. Rather, it was the reason for the attempted communication.

For example Deuteronomy 18:11 is one verse in a passage about pagan practices that the Israelites were to avoid. It states one is to avoid, “… a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead.” In 1 Samuel 28 the Bible is relating the story of King Saul being cut off from God. The Philistines were preparing to attack Saul and his army. When he prayed to God about the matter, God was silent. (Verses 4-6)

Saul did not handle God’s silence well. He faced a serious situation and wanted to know what he should do. Instead of seeking forgiveness or repenting of his sins, Saul chose to engage the Witch of En-dor, convincing her to call forth the spirit of Samuel. His hope was Samuel would tell him what to do since God was silent.

On the surface, one might think these passages do condemn someone for speaking to or praying for a deceased loved one. The problem is both of these passages are dealing with people trying to get around God. Commentaries seem to agree the prohibition is against seeking secret information in an attempt to circumvent God. One could also argue the prohibition is more against dealing with witches, mediums or others who practice pagan rituals.

As for the question of speaking to the dead, the bottom line is this. AnOldSinner is not saying it is okay to ask God to carry a message to Aunt Minnie or your mom. Neither am I saying one should pray to a deceased friend or loved one, asking them for help, winning lotto numbers, or to send a sign to let one know Heaven is real. On the other hand, it is hard to see how simply trying to convey one’s thoughts of love and pain to mom, dad, Aunt Minnie or anyone else while visiting their grave is a sin. They may not be able to hear it, but that does not mean it is a worthless gesture or a sin.

So, if my conclusions are ambiguous, or based mostly on my understanding of the situation, what is the point of this piece. The point of this piece is simple. If someone claiming to be a Bible teacher, Bible scholar, pastor, minister, or prophet says something that does not seem right, seek a second opinion. Do not seek the opinion of a pagan, the Witch of En-dor, or the fellow standing on the street corner with a Bible in one hand and an “The End is Near” sign in the other. Seek the opinion of someone who might have a better grasp of the situation than a lay Bible study leader or a blogger one has never met (me included).

Remember the old saying about which road is paved with good intentions. That sentiment has more truth than one might want to accept. There is little doubt in my mind the person leading the Bible study that sparked this rather lengthy commentary is well-intentioned. That does not mean everything taught in that class is biblically accurate.

  1. I do not mean to imply a person cannot study the Bible on his or her own and reach an understanding that is within the range of possible interpretations.  That is certainly a possibility, but history and personal experience lead me to believe it is not likely.

© AnOldSinner -2017


About S. Eric Jackson

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