Spiritualism

SPIRITISM (Spiritualism). The belief and practice of communication with the spirits, supposedly of the dead; a modern movement that began with the Fox sisters in 1848. Early Seventh-day Adventist writings denounce the "Rochester rappings" or "spirit manifestations," but not until the 1850s do they refer to this movement as "what is called Spiritualism, or Spirit Manifestations" (Review and Herald 4:58, Aug. 28, 1853; cf. ibid. 4:34, July 21, 1853). Seventh-day Adventists are effectively protected against spiritism by their belief in the natural mortality of humans and their insensate, unconscious state in death.

The law of Moses strictly forbade attempts to communicate with the dead through spirit mediums: "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them" (Lev. 19:31), and Jeremiah warned against the deceptions of "enchanters" and "sorcerers" (Jer. 27:9, 10). Witches were to be executed (Lev. 20:27).

Communication with the dead is impossible, because "the dead know not any thing" (Eccl. 9:5). Their mental processes cease at death (v. 6). Accordingly, communications pretending to come from the dead are a fraud (Jer. 27:9, 10). Seventh-day Adventists expect a revival of interest in communication with the spirits in the last days, with special emphasis on miracle working (Rev. 13:13, 14; 16:13, 14; cf. 2 Thess. 2:9, 10).

Modern Spiritism had its beginning in the mysterious raps heard in 1848 in the home of a farmer named Fox in Hydesville, New York. As early as 1849 Seventh-day Adventists warned that the power manifested was that of Satan (EW 43, 86).

The Review and Herald [3:108] for Oct. 28, 1852, printed a letter of E. R. Seaman, of Rochester, New York, who warned of the danger of consulting with "familiar spirits" who represented themselves as the spirits of departed friends. In his opinion, this subject was of greater importance "than some may suppose."

A few months later David Arnold, an SDA minister, declared: "Spiritualism has taken from Satan his personality, and given him an existence only in the shape of the carnal propensities of fallen man" (ibid. 4:34, July 21, 1853).

Further in his article Arnold said: "Satan with his legions of fallen angels, or spirits of Devils, is working through . . . the so-called spirit manifestations, to deceive the whole world, and if possible the very elect" (ibid. 4:36).

In the Aug. 4, 1853, issue of the Review and Herald (4:43), James White said he believed that "the time has come that a portion of the Review should be devoted to the exposition of those prophecies that refer to these [spiritistic] manifestations." Accordingly, a series of articles entitled "Signs of the Times," in the Review and Herald during August and September 1853 listed "spirit manifestations" as one of the several signs of the imminence of Christ's return (ibid. 4:58ff., Aug. 28, 1853). He pointed out that a preacher who believed in humans' innate immortality would be in an awkward position if he opposed the spirits' claim to be the spirits of departed loved ones.

R. F. Cottrell, a former Seventh Day Baptist minister who became an SDA in 1851, wrote in August 1853: "The spirits give it out as one of their first objects ˜to convince sceptics of the immortality of the soul". . .

"Thousands of professed Christians have been convinced, by Bible testimony, of the opposite doctrine [the unconsciousness of humans in death], within the last ten years" (ibid. 4:157, Nov. 22, 1853).

From May 6, 1852, through Oct. 30, 1855, the Review and Herald was published in Rochester, New York, and it is probable that the geographical proximity of this city, which is usually considered the birthplace of modern Spiritism, was an important factor in the strong emphasis given by Seventh-day Adventists on humans' unconsciousness in death and SDAs' vigorous opposition to the then-rising teachings of Spiritism. See also Death; Immortality. -- Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia.