Recently an apparent attack was levied against the founder of the Church Of God In Christ, Bishop C.H. Mason, claiming that he had used the art of Black magic and divination as a method to both divine the Saints of God and deliver the message of Pentecostalism to his followers.
Although Pentecostalism and Mason has had their fair share of critics over the years, this particular attack seemed to have been inspired in part by the book "Black Magic: Religion And The African American Conjuring Tradition" by Yvonne Chireau University Of CA press 2006.
The book builds upon the assertion that post slavery spiritual ethics revolved around the use of special material objects as a source of power. As stated in the excerpt, (pg. 111) Bishop Mason would illustrate his sermons by pointing out "earthly signs" and "freaks of nature". What is not discussed as much, is that these "illustrations" were used to deliver analogies in order to support a spiritual point. What was also overlooked was the Jesus often did as much using common and natural objects to illustrate spiritual points or make spiritual teachings. I'll discuss that more specifically toward the end of the article.
Clarifying The Confusion
Now, the author didn't seem to have studied enough for this compilation of information. Though it wasn't short on information or historical research, it was woefully short on responsible delivery and handling of the information. The author misinterprets the setting of African American response to biblical instructions at the turn of the century, and how biblical commands were carried out within the Black community in general. In addition the author incorrectly classifies all meta-spiritual occurrences as magic, further exacerbating the problem by lumping all classes of these occurrences together as one or a singular type of event; ie: Black Magic. This is an incorrect and, in my opinion, unscholarly approach set on course by a presupposition which leads to an incorrect examination of the causes that inspired and under girds reported spiritual events, miracles and observations. One can't assume that because mysticism occurred among African cultures that their descendants were inclined to the same type and practices of mysticism. This is a stereotype and a boarder-line insult if not an out right insult on all Black people who hold to and value their spirituality and in particularly their relationship to Christ.
In the same class of things is what is called divination, however there is a difference. As opposed to magic, divination seeks to determine what course of action should be taken. With qualification, the bible condemns all forms of divination that do not include or that bypasses God as its author and as its subject.
It seems that some people are offended to find that God DID NOT take the approach to exclude divination from processes that dealt with his people and his instructions to Israel. God's instructions against this and all non God directed forms of metapsiritual techniques is found in Deut. 18:9-14. Here is the scripture:
9-When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10-There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11-Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12-For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. 13-Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. 14-For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
Seeming contrary to modern understanding, God often directed or allowed his people to use methods of divination under his direction. A classic example is the use of the Thummim and Urim. God used these objects as a divining method to communicate with his people. These objects, which were jewels, crystals or stones, were supposed to be with the spiritual leader of the people and were a medium by which the Priest would consult with God.
Deut. 33:8 ~And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah;
Another example is the fleece of Gideon (Judges 6) which was also a form of divination, but was acceptable because the appeal to it was to God. Another form of divination was the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness to be healed. (Nu. 21:9, Jn. 3:14). This was another form of divination, but the appeal was to God and not the serpent. In the NT, the Magi (Mt. 2) were diviners practicing astrology and astronomy looking at the stars, but yet God spoke to them and told them where to go by following the star in the East.
Now before one gets all self-righteous and condemns what I am saying as strictly ancient Old Testament (OT) practices or something ungodly...In the New Testament (NT) we see the use of what can be identified as divination under the direction or allowance of God when the Apostles were seeking to replace Judas Apostleship. They did what was called "cast lots".
Acts 1:26 ~ And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
This was done before the Holy Ghost was given in Acts 2. After Acts 2, we observe handkerchiefs and aprons being delivered from the body of Apostles Paul (Acts 19:12) to heal the sick and even cast out demons. Where these things normal? NO. They were in the true form of miracles. Were these things prohibited forms of divination, deception or illusions? NO. They were authentic demonstrations of the power of God and the people, through the objects, looked to God and him only for the manifestation of power and blessing.
What is notable is that it was not a stretch of the imagination in 1st century Jewish thought to seek God looking to determine his direction and intervention through what appears to be prohibited and condemned actions or ungodly practices.
From an honest study of the material and information that we have regarding the subject, one would have to conclude that God allowed and spoke through certain practices affirming his will to the people of God throughout scripture. Unless one assumes that from Deut to Acts, divination or practices of this sort simply did not occur and suddenly reappeared decisively due to apostasy or Hellenization, it would be hard to explain why we see what we see in scripture, unless the understanding was that God allowed such practices with the condition that believers would trust him to speak through the use of certain devices.
It is also clearly evident that the NT church under the direction of the Holy Ghost, promoted and used certain practices in their growth, development and ministry to the people that some would consider to be forms of divination today. The myth is that all practices were the same. By scripture we observe that they were not one in the same and all actions were to be directed towards and centered upon Christ.
We must be clear, Bishop C.H. Mason DID NOT perform or do any practice that would have been considered Black Magic, divination, or spirit channeling etc. Neither did inanimate objects speak to him or give him messages or revelations. The accusation that any of those things occurred is based on lies, a conflation and mishandling of information, and an appeal to both modern historical and biblical ignorance on the subject in general.
Closer Examination Of The 2 Practices In Question
What the author of the book is pointing out are types of divination called RHABDOMANCY and HEPATOSCOPY. These were types of divination that used the reading of sticks or reeds thrown into the air or the natural positioning of natural objects or the entrails of animals, especially the liver, to determine what the will of God was.
Let's take a more indepth examination of both practices:
RHABDOMANCY is the term for using divining by rods, derived from the Greek word meaning "a rod" and "divination." The practice was alluded to by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), "As for the divination or decision of the staff, it is an augrial relic, and the decision thereof is accused by God Himself. `My people asked counsel of their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them.' Of this kind was that practised by Nabuchadonosor in that Caldean miscellany delivered by Ezekiel."
In John Brand's Observations of Popular Antiquities (1777; 1813), the following description was cited from a manuscript on Discourse of Witchcraft written by Mr. John Bell (1705), which was delivered from the Theophylact: "To set up two staffs, and having whispered some verses and incantations, the staffs fell by the operation of demons. Then they considered which way each of them fell, forward or backward, to the right or left hand, and agreeably gave responses, having made use of the fall of their staffs for signs."
This was the Grecian method of rhabdomancy which Saint Jerome took as being the same as the method alluded to in the above passage from Hosea and in Ezekiel XXI:21, 22, were it is thought "arrows" might have been used.From the above is it easy to see how belomancy and rhabdomancy are frequently confused. In all historical incidents one is not certain whether they are identical practices or different. The practice seemed to originate with the Chaldeans and Scythians and spread to the Germanic tribes who cut pieces of bark from fruit trees, carved characters on them and threw them at a hazard on a white cloth. According to a rabbis the Hebrews employed the same or similar methods. Except, they did not used characters but peeled the bark clear off one side of the rods and drew the presage from the manner in which the rods fell. The Scythians and Alani used rods made of myrtle and sallow. The latter chose "fine straight wands" for their divining devices according to Herodotus, which seems to imply the Hebrew used similar methods. A.G.H. ~ Shepard, Leslie A., ed. "Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 3rd ed." Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991.
Let's take a look at and contrast the previous information to another other form of divination:
HEPATOSCOPY is the examination or the inspection of the liver of sacrifical animals. The Babylonians were famous for hepatoscopy. A highly trained priest that might also might have been a Chaldaean which was synonymous with a magician, who was called a "bara" or diviner (literally a "seer inspector"), was in charge of the vital function. The liver was considered the seat of the blood and hence the seat of life itself. On the basis of this belief the Mesopotamians, by some incomprehensible process of reasoning, identified the liver of the sacrificial sheeps to the gods, and therefore deemed it a proper vechicle by which to divine the will and intentions of the higher powers.The bara or priest was specially trained to read or interpret the signs or markings of the livers. The practice of hepatoscopy was often performed in special temples where the priests would purify themselves and dress in special attire when performing the act. Supplies of livers for the purpose of reading omens were kept at the temples. Also, every army regiment had a bara with it and he performed the act before the regiment's entrance into battle. Private citizens also employed baras to perform hepatoscopy for them to determine the gods' will in their personal lives. A.G.H. ~ Buttrick, George Arthur. [Gen. Ed.] "The Interreter's Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia."
Are Any Methods Of Divination Necessary In Today's Church?
When one says "necessary" one is suggesting that something is essential for it to operate. Simply put NOTHING except Jesus is essential or necessary for the NT church or for the NT believer. He is the only mediator between God and men, and the only one that orders our steps or that can give direction to the NT church and believer. With that said, ANY system, operation or function that takes away from the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or which people would rely on to give them an answer "in addition to" the WORD of God and seeking God in, through and by prayer, would be condemned within scripture.
However, that does not take away or minimize the use of certain practices that would have, in and of themselves, be considered divination and ungodly.
Please don't get this confused. One cannot simply apply Christ to ungodly practices and say that God has ordained the practice. For example, God has condemned astrology, in part because people expect the stars to tell them what to do as opposed to expecting God to speak. The focus is on the objects rather than God because man is given to worship of material and what he can see. The same is true with "psychic" intervention and even with messages from the "master-prophets" etc. When the focus become man, God rejects the practice!
To simply place the name of Christ on ungodly practices, and self seeking spiritual ventures and desires is not only a prohibited biblical practice, it is SIN!
Like many Internet critics, the author makes the mistake of saying that Mason used these objects for God's direction. There remains no evidence of this by any author or historian close to said events. What has been recorded and certainly documented is that Bishop Mason saw a mystery to those objects and delivered illustrations and analogies using those objects as they related to what was being discussed.
Jesus did this as well. He spoke of the "mustard seed" comparing it to both faith and the Kingdom of God (Mk. 4:31, Mt. 13:31) using the seed to reveal certain facts about faith and God's kingdom. Further Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a "fishnet" that caught all kinds of fish (Mt. 13:47). Jesus compared it to a hidden treasure in a field (Mt. 13:44), not to mention the times he says that it (the Kingdom Of Heaven) is similar to men and women such as kings, travelers and even 10 virgins. James uses similar analogies and terminology imploring fig and olive trees to make the point as well. (James 3:12) Was power 'conjured" up from the mention or use of any of these things to teach about certain aspects of God and his plan for humanity?
It would seem that the author makes the incorrect assumption that because these things are physically brought to the scene, or used as visual aids, that they are a form of Black magic, manipulation and deception, or at the very least objects that were used to conjure a spell on the people of God. NONE of this was the case. This leads to the greater understanding that not all things that Black folk practiced, nor all things that they referenced historically were either magic or divination. THAT is the confusion that I am pointing out in this book and revealing to the staunch critic of the spiritual move or power of God within the modern church.
Are there those who do use divination to control the minds of people? YES. We would have to agree. We can see it all the time. For example, a certain pastor in TX. has reportedly used potions, spells and other forms of witchcraft to beguile the people and even seduce certain members into sexual activity. We are recently told that there are at least 8 counts of sexual impropriety pending against this person. Be careful however because not all of them (the seducers) use potions, lotions, or cast spells etc. Some of them seduce the people through words, materialism (physical prosperity) and their "personality" which allows them to move in and out amongst the people in their sins, yet never being held accountable for their sins.
These type of evils and ungodly activities are not relegated to the minister. These are issues that affect the lay member as well. As long as sin exists it has to be monitored, exposed and taught on and against. When our reliance becomes upon men and things and not upon God, we are left exposed to the enemy, sin and evil.
It would seem that this generation of believers are afraid. Some are less interested in securing facts and determining specific information than lumping all things together, hiding in fear, being blinded to truth and when their faith is challenged they are not equipped to deal with the criticism.
It is my hope that after a careful examination of this article, that believers would be better informed as to the difference between magic, miracles and divination, and better understand how God used and allowed certain practices within the context of the church to gain glory to his name and for his express purpose.