Superstitions have moulded the thinking of many people for centuries. In the West, breaking a mirror, seeing a black cat or Friday the 13th, are all linked with bad luck. In Japan, houses are built without doors or windows facing the northeast because of the belief that demons from that direction won’t find the entrance. In the Philippines, shoes are placed beside the dead before burial so that “St.” Peter will welcome them. In some parts of Nigeria, months ending with “ember” are linked with tragic events or ill-luck.
These are superstitious beliefs rooted in fear and ignorance. Thankfully, Science has helped dispel some of them. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church used “bleeding” wafers to fool people into believing that they change into the real flesh of Christ. But when microscopes were invented, the red pigment on wafers were found to be produced by a pigment-producing bacteria (Serratia marcenscens) which grows on wafers kept in damp places.
For many years, the Yoruba god, Sopona, was believed to be the cause of smallpox and was appeased to ward off small pox. He was so feared that merely mentioning his name was believed to inflict bad luck, thus, his priests gained much wealth and influence. But today, we now know that small pox is caused by viruses, not an earth deity. Superstitions develop when lies and fictions are made up to explain something less understood.
In Acts 17 when Paul visited Athens, Greece, he saw that the whole city was given to idolatry. Their lifestyle was described: “For the Athenians and foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing” (v 21). The Pulpit Commentary explains that “Athenian religion ministered to art and amusement, and was entirely destitute of moral power. Taste and excitement alone were gratified.”
Apostle Paul said to the Athenians: “in all things you are very religious” (v 22). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the Greek word rendered as “religious” is deisidaimon which also means “superstitious.” It refers to fear of the supernatural; a practice that was all-embracing and non-discerning, with a reference for all kinds of deities, religious notions, religious fads and religious claims. The Athenian culture lacked all discretionary thought and would try anything with the word “religion” tacked to it. It was a system of mindless reverence and mindless religion with a love for newness and novelty.
This same worldview is invading the church as Thomas Oden points out:
“The Babylonian captivity to novelty is the temptation of all modern reflection. It is invading evangelical leadership at an alarming rate in ways disturbing to evangelicals in the mainline who have suffered from its bewitchments for two centuries” (Christianity Today, February 9, 1998, 46).
Like Athens of old, the church today chases after novelties and religious fads. These are like “bandwagons” that many Christians jump on and circulate all through the Body of Christ until it crashes into a ravine or a more exciting wagon rolls in. If you are in doubt, just read through any 5 popular Christian magazines and you would see are still stuck with Athens. Truth has been sacrificed for what is sensational and exciting. Will it sell? Publish it. Is it groovy? Bring it on. Will it appeal to people’s superstitious mindset? Say it and call it “revelation knowledge.” All through church history, this weapon diverts people from the simplicity of the Christian faith.
Forms of “Christian” Superstitions
1. Prophetic manipulation
This is when people are made to comply with a certain belief or act because it’s coming from a prophet/teacher who must never be questioned. This trumps out Biblical discernment and breeds superstition. In 2014, pastor Daniel Lesego of South Africa ordered his congregrants to eat grasses like a bunch of cows. Video footages later show Lesego walking on the bodies of his members like doormats and ordering them to drink fuel allegedly turned to apple juice. They all happily obeyed. If his members are not under a demonic spell, they are close to it.
Manipulative folks usually have a ready-made answer to every criticism of their awkward and cruel dictates: “The Holy Spirit told me to say/do it.” There was a prophetess of an African syncretic (“white garment”) church who poured petrol on her daughter and burnt her badly because she is witch. When she was interrogated, she said “The ‘Holy Spirit’ said I should do it.” Many Christian ladies have gullibly allowed fake pastors fondle and sexually assault them all in the name of “prayers” because “the holy spirit said that’s the only way the prayer can be effective.” Sometimes these wolves in sheep clothing use prevalent superstitions to achieve their goals.
2. An obsession with supernatural revelations
This is when every spiritual experience or information from the spirit realm is dogmatically accepted as divine and sometimes as the only yardstick of authenticity. Whether it’s Mr Bunick who wrote in The Messengers that angels visited him to tell him he is the reincarnation of Apostle Paul or Mr Hinn who tells his audience of how he received directions for his ministry from a dead Mrs Khulman in a vision, these experiences are never tested, but blindly followed. In fact, once some Christians hear the word “visions” or “revelations” they throw out discernment and are ready to swallow whatever they hear without considering that spiritual revelations can be fabricated by a man or counterfeited by the enemy.
Some Christians also enjoy listening to demons speaking through people during deliverances. This is one of the ways superstitions flow into the church, because demons are liars and we are not to seek them out for information. We don’t need to rely on them when we have the all-knowing Spirit of God who can tell us what we need to know. Interestingly, there are some churches today that adhere to certain doctrines based only on someone’s vision or a demonic confession without a shred of Biblical authority.
When I was in a certain Christian fellowship during my university days, I asked one of their leaders why they teach some forms of asceticism (e.g prohibition of jewelry use) as conditions for salvation. He answered “Those above us have received revelation about it, so we have to accept it.” I found that answer to be vapid. I asked him “What does the Bible say?” I wondered why God would inspire hundreds of pages of Scripture and then leave out such vital requirements? I later learnt what the revelation ‘from the top’ says: “Every thing used as body ornaments is from underneath the earth where idols and dead bodies of evil people are buried and lots of chemical conversion and evil spirits are there, so therefore, they are to be eschewed.”
Now, that was very convincing, wasn’t it?
3. Reliance on tokens
This is a dependence on physical objects or amulet for spiritual protection. Some Christians wear crosses, “holy” rings, medals, or rosaries believing these will protect them from danger or enemies. Some drink or bathe with perfumed water; use pictures of “saints,” “Jesus,” angels or a piece of garlic to supposedly ward off evil spirits. Others place a baby’s head on an opened Bible and pray with candles or incenses.
The whole idea of using crosses or crucifix for protection is quite old. Roman emperor, Constantine’s mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326 AD and found 3 crosses alleged to be those of Christ and the two thieves. The cross of Christ was supposedly identified when it worked miracles. The problem is, it’s very doubtful Helena would have found the “real” cross of Christ in Jerusalem after 3 centuries because the Jewish law required crosses to be burnt after its use for crucifixion.
The Encyclopedia of Religion notes that while Helena’s pilgrimage was historically correct, her discovery of the original cross or its miracle must have been later legendary additions because these details didn’t appear until 440 AD ( 14 years after the event). It was due to this fairy tale that the use of crosses in churches and homes became endorsed by Rome in the 6th century. Since then, people have looked up to crosses as sources of miracles and talismans to ward off bad luck and spirits. Even today, some Christians still put crosses on their doors for this same purpose not knowing the origin of this silly idea.
The New Testament, however, clearly shows that Jesus’ apostles didn’t hang crosses around their necks or carry it in their hands like those priests in vampire movies. They saw it as a device of death and shame. Their faith was not in a wooden or iron cross, but in Christ and His work at the cross (1Cor. 1:17-18).
4. Following omens and “signs”
Many Christians are programmed to attribute certain things to either good luck or bad luck e.g itching hands, sighting wall geckos, seeing spiders in the roof etc. Some are taught to avoid clothes with certain colours on certain days; cooked meats or fishes on Easter; foods in which human hair or insects are found or anything offered to them with a left hand. These are superstitious ideas. There is no such thing as “good luck” or “bad luck” in Scripture. What the Bible teaches is blessings and curses.
I also question the widely embraced “Four Temperaments” theory – which classifies everyone into sanguine, choleric, melancholy and phlegmatic temperaments, each having its set of characteristics. It is also said that our temperaments determine which areas of spiritual calling we can best function. But the problem is this: human behaviour is so diversified and complex that it can’t be reduced into 4 neat categories.
If a sanguine and a choleric come together to have a child, which of the four temperaments will he/she have? Our genetic codes are unique, so our temperaments can’t be “predicted.” People can also be modified by their environments and other spiritual factors. Tim LaHaye himself wrote: “The temperament theory is not the final answer to human behavior, and for these and other reasons it may not prove satisfactorily to everyone” (Why You Act the Way You Do, p 58).
5. Strange church practices
These are practices – ranging from superstitious to blatantly occultic – that people indulge in a bid to “receive miracles” from God. These include: standing on a Bible in prayer, prayers involving rubbing eggs on the body and breaking it afterwards, praying nude, placing “prayer water” in dew for some days and drinking it as a ritual, ceremonial visits to “holy lands,” special mountains or “sacred rivers.”
Some folks believe your prayers can’t be effective unless you visit a mountain. That is an error. God is not limited by geographical location. You don’t need to visit any “holy” mountain or valley to receive from God. I have seen Christians rolling in and drinking from dirty “sacred” streams (which looks like Fanta drink) in glee all because of miracles!
Other examples include: pouring of libation on new cars (an old pagan rite to honour earth deities), prayers with salts, snake handling and strange use of Psalms. When these practices start creeping into a church, in the name of “the Lord told me” or traditions, let one thing be clear: you are dealing with sanctified superstitions.
How can this issue be addressed?
I. Faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith should be in Jesus and His perfect work on the cross, not in physical objects (Rom. 9:33). A solid faith in the name and blood of Jesus Christ dispels fear of the unknown, fear of witches or of demons (Prov. 18:10). It is faith in Christ that sustains a Christian in the time of trouble, not a chill in his spine or signs in the moon.
II. Faith in God’s Word. Our faith should not be in our spiritual experiences or a human personality. You can’t be immune to deception if you exalt visions or dreams above Scripture. We have to stop venerating human personalities. God can use an ordinary church worker to minister to you just as much as a world famous prophet. “He sent out His Word and healed them and delivered them from destruction” (Ps. 107:20). He didn’t send out a personality.
III. Imbibe the doctrines of Scripture. The Bible warns us to “teach no other doctrine. Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies which minister questions…” (1Tim. 1:3-4) “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1Tim. 4:13) “Take heed unto thy self and unto the doctrine; continue in them” (1Tim. 4:16). The antidote of falsehood is presenting the truth. Show me a church that is not rooted in the truth of God’s Word and I will show you a church that be will be run over by human philosophies and superstitions. It’s just a matter of time.
IV. Walk in discernment. No teaching or prophecy of a teacher or prophet should be blindly followed unless what he says or writes is in harmony with Scripture and the witness of the Holy Spirit in your spirit. You need to judge what people say: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1Cor. 14:9; Gal. 1:8). Not every vision, miracle or supernatural experience is from God and every doctrine or spiritual experience that is not from the Spirit of Truth, is from the spirit of error (1John 4:6).