Superstitions have moulded the thinking of many for centuries. In the West, breaking a mirror, seeing a black cat or Friday the 13th, are linked with bad luck. In Japan, houses are built without doors or windows facing the northeast so that demons from that direction won’t find the entrance. In the Philippines, shoes are placed beside the dead before burial for “St.” Peter to welcome them. In some parts of Nigeria, bad luck is attached to months ending with “ember.” These are superstitious beliefs rooted in fear and ignorance.
Science has helped dispel some of them. In 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 bacteria (Serratia marcenscens), which grew on wafers kept in damp places.
For years, the Yoruba god, Sopona was appeased to ward off smallpox. Today, we know that small pox is caused by viruses, not an earth deity. Superstitions develop when lies and fictions are made up to explain something which is 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). According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (2:20), the Greek word translated as “religious” is deisidaimon which also means “superstitious.” It refers to fear of the supernatural. It was 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, Feb. 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.
In the 4th century, Constantine’s mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326 AD and found 3 crosses alleged to be those of Christ and the 2 thieves. The cross of Christ was “identified” when it worked miracles at the prompting of the bishop of Jerusalem. The problem is, its 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 (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, p 145).
The Encyclopedia of Religion (1:494) also notes that while Helena’s pilgrimage was historically correct, her discovery of the original cross or its miracle must have been later additions because these details didn’t appear until 440 AD- 114 years after the event. But superstitions are more exciting than facts.
Due to this legend, the use of crosses in churches and homes became official in the 5th century. By the 6th century, the use of the crucifix image was endorsed by Rome. People began to look up to crosses as sources of miracles and as talismans to ward off bad luck and evil 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 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 (Heb 12:2). Their faith was not in a wooden or iron cross, but in Christ and His work at the cross (1Cor 1:17-18).
Let’s take a modern example -the Four Temperaments theory. This classifies everyone into sanguine, choleric, melancholy and phlegmatic temperaments, each having its set of characteristics. It is also said that temperaments determine which areas of spiritual calling we can best function. But 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 4 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)
Yet this theory has been parroted from the pulpits to the hills on the pretext of vapid excuses: “Its scientific!” Hardly. “Its accurate!” Looks like Astrology. “It was taught by a great man of God!” Popularity doesn’t equal credibility. Just like Athens, facts are not exciting; novelties are.
Forms of “Holy” Superstitions
1. Prophetic manipulation– This is when people are made to comply with a certain belief or act because its 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 petrol allegedly turned to apple juice, they all happily obeyed. If these members are not under a demonic spell, they are close to one.
Folks like these have a ready-made answer to every criticism: “the Holy Spirit told me to say/do it.” A woman told us she attended a church where the pastor claimed that the Holy Spirit says everyone present should bring out a certain Naira note, rub it on the floor like a ritual and drop it in the offering box. She felt this was unbiblical and didn’t comply. The pastor made a scathing reference to her as a rebellious goat. That is manipulation.
2. An obsession with supernatural revelations. This occurs when every spiritual experience or information from the spirit realm is accepted as divine, authentic and sometimes the yardstick. Whether its Nick Bunick who wrote of visits by angels who tell him he is the reincarnation of Apostle Paul in The Messengers or Benny Hinn who told his audience that he received directions for his ministry from the dead Kathryn Khulman in a vision, these experiences are never tested, but blindly followed. The moment some Christians hear the word “revelations” they lay aside their discernment and are ready to swallow them wholesale without realizing that revelations can be fabricated by a man or counterfeited by the enemy.
There are actually some Christians who enjoy listening to enemy spirits. Years ago, a demonized man spewed blasphemies in church which attracted spectators. The pastor there started to argue with the demon and interviewed it till it was casted out. The 4-hour long exchange was captured and published for reading pleasure (or displeasure) in the March 2005 Christian Alive magazine edition.
While this may excite the naive, this is exactly how superstitions get started, 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 denominations today that adhere to certain doctrines based on someone’s vision or a demonic confession without a shred of Biblical authority.
When I was in a certain fellowship, I asked a leader why their doctrine forbids ladies from using jewelry. He answered “those above us have received revelation about it, so we have to accept it.” I found that answer too watery. I asked “what does the Bible say?” Why would God inspire hundreds of pages of Scripture and then leave out such a vital doctrine? This “revelation” was later decoded in one of their bulletins:
“Everything used for jewelries… are all from marine kingdom under the ground. And under the ground there are a lot of chemical reactions taking place. Mixture of things happening, join together to pump up all kinds of things.” (The Truth You Should Know, 5)
Now, this is very convincing isn’t it?
3. Reliance on tokens. This is a dependance on a physical object or amulet for spiritual protection. Some wear crosses, rings or rosaries believing it will protect them. Some drink or bathe with perfumed water; carry pictures of “saints,” “Jesus,” angels or talismans with them. Others place a baby’s head on an opened Bible and pray with candles or incenses.
4. Following omens and “signs.” Many Christians are programmed to attribute certain things to either good luck or bad luck e.g itching hands, hooting owls, wall geckos 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 it teaches is blessings and curses.
5. Strange church practices. These are practices – ranging from the superstitious to the blatantly occult – that people indulge in a bid to “receive miracles” from God. They 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 7 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. In 2008, I visited a church camp site with a group and I was aghast to see how specific sites there had become idolized. They had a dirty “sacred” stream (the colour looks like Fanta drink) and people were drinking the water without bating an eyelash- because of miracles!
Others 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 church traditions, let one thing be clear: you are dealing with sanctified superstitions.
How can this problem 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, a sensation 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 also need 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. Expounding 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 to falsehood is to present 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. Its 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. 14:29, 1Cor 2:16, 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).