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Battle Against Spiritualism Far From Over, Adventist Theologian Says
Gayoba tells Bible Conference of pervasive influences in most of world
BY MARK A. KELLNER, news editor, reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Traditional cultures” of Africa, Asia and South America aren’t the only places where spiritualism can be found, Francisco Gayoba, president of the Adventist University of the Philippines, told delegates at the Third International Bible Conference on June 19, 2012. Spiritualist beliefs also surface in the most sophisticated realms, where “New Age” practitioners, knowingly or not, fall into similar practices.
In either case, the challenge for Seventh-day Adventist pastors and evangelists is to reach those coming from animist and spiritualist backgrounds not only in the context of their beliefs, but also discipling new believers away from mixing old practices with their new Christian faith.
Gayoba’s one-hour talk, which was very warmly received by the conference audience, noted the prevalence of spiritualist beliefs in many quarters.
“For those of us serving in traditional cultures, there has always been spiritualism,” he explained. “Spirits are the means of salvation for those in animism.”
But, he added, the “framework of spiritualism continues in Roman Catholic theology, where the ‘soul’ unites with a body before birth and even continues on after death.” He said such thinking pervades much of Protestantism as well.
Hinduism and Buddhism share similar thoughts about souls living on after death and even reincarnating in other bodies, he explained, while some strains of Islam separate thought between the soul and the body. Chinese and African folk traditions share a concept that if the spirits of one’s ancestors are well respected, these spirits will offer blessing, with curses following for disrespect. African folk traditions spread to the new world via the African diaspora and show up in folk religions in the Caribbean, Haiti and Brazil, among other places.
Spiritualism and elements of animism will show up even in the halls of the educated, as Gayoba related from a conversation he had with a professor at the University of the Philippines, a public institution known for its atheistic bent: “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of them.”
In Western cultures such as the United States, the journey into strange practices can be found among those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” Gayoba said, citing scholar Robert Fuller, who defined such people as “’eclectic seeker[s]’ ... choosing avenues of greatest comfort and effect apart from the structures of organized religion.”
How to resolve this? “We need to adapt our missionary methods,” said Gayoba, who noted that he had been taught mainly U.S.-style evangelism and had American-produced materials earlier in his ministry. “Adventists who take the Bible not only as the source of truth, but also of missionary methods, have models for such outreach,” he said, quoting an December 11, 1890 article in The Atlantic Canvasser by Ellen G. White: Paul “varied his manner of labor, always shaping his message to the circumstances under which he was placed.”
Outlining various approaches to those whose outlook is “high” or “science-based,” as well as those at the “folk religion” level, Gayoba said a three-pronged attack of addressing behaviors and rituals, then beliefs, results in a proper worldview, which he said is at the core of faith. However, more study needs to be done
“We study the Bible and theology, but we do not study cultures and context, especially those outside their own,” he said. For example, “evangelical[-styled] apologetics are likely to have little impact on those who have embraced the New Age.”
Gayoba concluded, “We need go have more adequate responses to animism and folk religions where spiritualism is deeply entrenched, so that we can proclaim the everlasting gospel to most of the people of the world today.”
Paul Ratsara, president of the church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, whose early life in Madagascar exposed him to the animistic practices of his neighbors, said, “I think what Dr. Gayoba says is right on target. We need to study more the application of this topic. If we don’t address this, our witness will be weaker and our converts will be less loyal.”
Ratsara added his own conviction that having pastors and believers filled with the power of God, as outlined in Acts 1:8, is essential in establishing converts in the truth.