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Communion of Saints vs. Necromancy


Saul conjuring up Samuel

It’s funny how you can hear something a million times, but then it just clicks later. Listening to a podcast on Ancient Faith radio on the intercession of saints, I started connecting dots on the issue that otherwise had alluded me. The accusation often comes that asking the saints for prayer, or believing that we are in communion with them is necromancy. Often verses like the following are cited:

“So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance (1 Chronicles 10:13).” 

“And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19).”

However, I think there are some assumptions here that are mistaken. I’ve dealt with a similar issue in my previous post on fantasy fiction. Moses stood before Pharaoh and his rod turned into a snake as a sign of God’s power. However, Pharaoh’s sorcerers, likewise copied this act by turning their rods into serpents. But in the scriptures, one of these parties are righteous, the others are said to practice sorcery. Why? Both did supernatural works. Power is clearly not the issue. The problem is about the source. It’s a question of legitimacy. There is no force called “magic.” There are only spiritual beings who have abilities that we do not. Scripture teaches that they are either for or against God. The problem with Saul, and of sorcery, is trying to bypass God in order to have access to knowledge or power by an illegitimate channel.

This is the same issue with calling communion of saints necromancy. First of all, in Christ, no one is spiritually dead or inactive. Death is not a cessation of consciousness. Nor are the “dead” in Christ, separated from union with him. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).” They are still in Christ and part of his body. And He has resurrected and living body. Not a dead one. That is why we as the Church participate in his resurrection life now sacramentally. As members of Christ’s body, a new bond had been formed between believers. One that was not there before Christ came. And since death had been defeated, it does not separate them. And separation is death. Saints in heaven then are dead only in the sense that they lack their bodies. But in Christ this physical separation no more changes relations than being in physically different rooms. I can still pray for my neighbours when I’ve moved house. And if I loved them as I should and remembered them before God on earth or in heaven, why wouldn’t I? I’m not allowed or unable to think of loved ones in heaven? If I did, would I be so callous as to not offer prayer for them? They who need it most? Do I care less in heaven about the Body that I’m a part of?

Plus being spiritual in and of itself is not deadness. They are just as alive, or even more so than the Angels. God certainly doesn’t see them as in a state of deadness “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him (Luke 20:37-38).” They are dead physically. But not dead as in unconscious or lacking activity, thoughts, emotion (Rev 6:10). Nor dead in their relationship to God. Which is the primary form of death and the root of all others (Ephesians 2:1). For even the living are called dead if they are separate from God. While the dead are called living while in relationship with God.

And in fact, those in Christ have the indwelling Spirit of Life! Did they lose that once their souls became separate from their bodies? No way. Unlike the Old Testament, God’s Spirit now has a permanent abiding in those united to Christ. The same Spirit of Life which indwells us now, indwells them. Uniting us in Christ. How can they be dead, when they are in fact raised to life? And in fact reign with Christ now, just as he reigns from Heaven (Rev 20:4-6, Daniel 7:10)? And since Christ too in his capacity as a human, can be a High Priest who is aware about all our petitions, then it should not be a problem for other glorified human beings either (1 John 4:17). Unless one wants to say that Christ via his humanity has been left in the dark about our struggles for the past 2000 years. 

Also the issue of necromancy is not that spirits and embodied people are not supposed to communicate. Otherwise Angels would not have appeared to people. It would have been condemned in scripture. And Jesus too, spoke with Moses and Elijah at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). These however were legitimate channels of communication. Thus the condemnation of necromancy is not a blanket condemnation against a relationship between human and spiritual beings. The Psalms even have us address angels in our worship “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! (Psalm 103:20-21).” The problem is legitimacy. Working with God, or trying to bypass him. This was the main issue with Saul.  

The problem with Saul was that God had already disowned him. And would not respond or give Saul a message. Saul then tried to bypass God’s dealing with him and find out information in an illegitimate way. Orthodoxy teaches that God has set up the Church such that we are all intercessors for each other. We all pray for and care for one another. True we have a direct line and relationship with God. But since we are made in his image, and God is Trinitarian, in eternal communion, so too He wishes to work in us through others. So that we too can live in communion as He does. And this fellowship, does not end when one physically dies. Though they are separate from their body, they are not separate from the body. They still know us and care for us. Orthodoxy teaches that in Christ, this relationship still continues. Though it takes on a new form. Much in the same way that we have communion with God, who is spirit and we do not see. So too we have with them. It may feel very much one sided at times, but it is no less real. The difference between this and necromancy is that communion of saints is not trying to bypass God. Rather the Orthodox Church teaches it is established by God.

So if one’s issue with communion of the saints, is either that:

a) The Saints are dead

b) Spirits beings and humans are forbidden from communication

Then for the first, one will have to take issue with the scriptures which only speaks of dead saints in reference to physicality. Not spiritual life or activity. At the same time refuting the second point if it is brought forward in an unqualified manner. Nor is Orthodoxy teaching that one bypasses God. Even if one were to think the doctrine is incorrect, strictly speaking it is not necromancy.


6 comments on “Communion of Saints vs. Necromancy

  1. Benjamin Scott
    August 30, 2015

    This is one of those issue that makes Orthodoxy hard to approach for Protestants. It has ranked up there on my list of “uncomfortable items” alongside hesychasm. I think it’s partially that any responsible Christ seeking Christian from any background, has learned to be very careful with the occult. Practices and ideas that I would laugh at or run from in Protestant churches, are practiced in Orthodoxy in a different way. Among 7th Day Adventists for instance, there is a seeming fascination with angels which seems unhealthy to me. This seems to be based in their history that they claim their “spirit of prophecy” founder, E.G. White, had an angel giving her visions and revelations from God. Among them I see the interest in angels as dangerous. I visited an Orthodox church last night for the first time after having wanted to for about 12 years. I tend to approach things intellectually first, and not experientially, I guess you’d say…. I spoke with the Priest, whom I liked very much. I noted that in Orthodoxy there are images of angels in the church all over the place, and yet I am not at all uncomfortable with them. Again, at a Catholic church, the statuary freaks me out. So much of it has to do with our inner beliefs I guess. With how much charity of heart we grant to one tradition and culture or another. Learning to think fairly about Orthodoxy for someone who comes from the outside, through a minefield of lies, is difficult. I’ve learned to suspect everything and find my suspicions are correct! Yet Orthodoxy has a claim to fame that no other church has. They are the original. I don’t think there’s much that can be said against that fact. The only question is whether they have allowed occult corruption to creep in or not? I tend to feel Rome has. And even the Orthodox have, is this actual grounds for doing what the Protestants did against Rome? What would ever constitute those grounds? Does the Bible give us any grounds for leaving the church? These are interesting questions to me, but alongside of them are the interesting questions of finding comfort with what is uncomfortable to me, and opening up to ideas which are based in the authority of a tradition and a church established by Christ.

    But all that said, I wouldn’t say that I necessarily feel that the occult has corrupted Orthodoxy with necromancy, meditation, etc…. The question is one of what it means to trust Christ’s work in establishing the church against the gates of hades, and what that means? What are the standards by which we judge teachers, individuals, the church as a whole? The situation Protestants are in, in which they believe that they must choose their own church or form their own church if they can’t find a good choice, are unprecedented. How can one deal with this situation Biblically? I guess this has been a huge struggle for me and I’ve rationalized it to survive, and somehow I’ve kept and even refined my faith through this fire. I know others who are the same and very sincere and of deep faith. But I believe I am on a journey towards a destination. Hopefully the same path you’re on. I only wish that Christianity had come to me as a single choice, either “in or out.” The reality and thus the “possibility” of mass division which occurred 1k years ago created a situation in which so many people were born into the world thinking that their split off of a split off traditions were “Christianity” and having no idea that there was something else out there or that Christianity was something else. We’ve learned to think in the wrong world and conversion involves a change of behavior learned in battle. I have spiritual PTSD. Please pray for me. I say this to all the saints, both living and dead. I know I’m not alone.


    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 30, 2015

      If you don’t hold to a sola scriptura worldview, and the Churches that you think are possible candidates of *the* Church, all hold to this teaching as valid, then it should be taken as normative prima facie. And the worry of occult corruption is saying that the Gates of Hades prevailed.

      Also it is a question of canon too. For if earlier canons were accepted then you would find this teaching in it.

      2 Maccabees 15: 11-16: He armed each of them not so much with confidence in shields and spears as with the inspiration of brave words, and he cheered them all by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God.”

      Now to reject that, one must not only pic their own interpretation of various passages, but the canon too. Heck, Luther wanted to get rid of James.

      Praying for the dead too, was a Jewish practice. Which is still done to this day. In the synagogues and at the festival of Hanukkah (Which is not a religious festival given by Moses). Jesus attended both these places, where both these things were practiced. And yet he did not denounce any of it. You would think that something so “occult” as praying for the dead, that the Spirit would have known to later permeate the Church, that Jesus would have seen, that if he did denounce it, it would have been very important to have put down in scripture? Sola Scriptura and what not.

      I’ll remember you in my prayers Brother! This isn’t easy. Please pray for me too.

      • Benjamin Scott
        August 31, 2015

        I meant to say, “And even ((if)) the Orthodox have, is this actual grounds for doing what the Protestants did against Rome?”

        In other words, I’m not convinced that the occult has pressed into Orthodoxy, (although finding comfort with hesychasm is my biggest obstacle), and I’m just starting to read the Triads and work through that issue as I can catch time.

        I am beginning to understand that belief in the Church means that, as you said, the gates of hades can’t prevail. Heresy can take root in places for times, but not over the whole, or Christ’s words are incorrect. The schism of 1054 is difficult. Imagine living in Rome at that time and finding yourself on the wrong side of the territorial fence.

        Great point about Maccabees. Thank-you for the prayers. They are reciprocated.


      • Yoshua Scribes
        August 31, 2015

        If what you think is Occultish has infected Orthodoxy to such a degree, and it is likewise found in other Churches with Apostolic roots and successions of bishops, then either Sola Scriptura is true, or the gates of hades have one.

        And yes, belief in the Church is seen as trusting in Christ, much in the same way that belief in Christ’s words are belief in him.

        And thank you for your prayers! 🙂

  2. Benjamin Scott
    August 31, 2015

    Or else we need to redefine “The Church” as being invisible – consisting only of those who truly follow(ed) Christ, whichever place they are found. Trusting by faith that they can and will find fellowship with each other around Christ, when they find each other. Which is what I have been doing. I’m not going to argue I have been correct, but rather that I am here by default on a journey. Because I won’t give up my faith in Christ just because I haven’t yet found the answer to what the correct way to understand what the church is, just yet. I may be uncomfortable in my position until my dilemma is resolved, but at least I am not hanging out with false teachers and false churches. I may reject every establishment or religion, but that includes more false churches than the true ones! By default since there can only be one true one!

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 31, 2015

      Well see, that’s just Sola Scriptura. Though possibly wanting to be in line with historical Christianity. Sorta Anglican in a way.

      And I understand the dilemma you’re in. I may seem more confident in my decision now, but I was not always. Nor do I think I could probably answer every or most objections. But from my current and progressively growing vantage point, I don’t see sufficient reason not to join. In fact I’m very much looking forward to the day I think I’m ready to step forward.

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This entry was posted on August 27, 2015 by in Theology.
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