Testing the Spirits
The doctrine of angelology is, unfortunately, a very polarizing area of theological study in today’s evangelical arena. Some have an unhealthy desire to seek supernatural experiences and go beyond what the Bible states about the spirit realm. This may lead to sensationalism and an obsession with angels, demons, and paranormal activity. It is helpful to remember that if Michael the archangel would not speak against Satan (Jude 1:9), how confident should we be in praying against Satan in an attempt to bind him? The Bible is clear that the battle is won in Christ. Instead of interacting with the forces of darkness, Christians should place their faith in Christ’s protection from it (1 John 4:4).
Conversely, because of the unusual nature of the spiritual realm, some would prefer to ignore angelology. But this results in a truncated view of a topic that the apostle Paul strongly emphasizes. For how can we Christians ignore our enemies and still be adequately prepared for opposition from them? Paul details who this enemy is in Eph. 6:12 (NAS),
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
To not have a proper study of demonology and angelology is to be at a disadvantage, especially when confronted with serious questions by those who experience the supernatural in their own lives. So, we must have a sober understanding of the invisible war that rages around us. Awareness of our enemy and his devices helps defend us from his onslaught. My article will evaluate the spirits that are responsible for the “Marian apparitions” that millions of people around the world consider benevolent, beneficial and the very instruction of God Himself.
When addressing the Marian apparitions, it is important to first define our terms. By apparition let it be understood that I am describing a spirit-being that supernaturally appears before a witness. This sighting is often accompanied by apparent miracles that are used to validate the spirit as being the true Mary of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church, after investigation, makes decisions to either accept or reject these apparitions. By 2010, eleven apparitions, out of the hundreds reported, have been validated by Rome. The incredible importance of these decisions by Rome should not be ignored by any evangelical Christian. No longer can these apparitions be laughed off or viewed as delusional. For if Rome has declared the legitimacy of these apparitions, approximately one billion Roman Catholics in the world are under pressure to accept them as legitimate also.
A serious study into these sightings demands an answer as to what these witnesses saw which convinced them that Mary had appeared to them. Their stories are difficult to ignore. There is substantial proof that something supernatural was experienced. For example, the “miracle” that accompanied the Fatima apparition was witnessed by over 70,000 people, where it was claimed that the sun danced in the sky. Moreover, an apparition over a Coptic church in Egypt has photographic evidence, while the Assuit apparition has video evidence. Regardless of whether this evidence is accepted, many Catholics believe it to be real. The zeal of the visionaries (and their followers) is evident in that they did exactly what “Mary” told them to. If there is any doubt to this, look at the beautiful basilicas all over the world dedicated to the spirit’s appearance. To be clear, it is possible that the evidence of some of these spiritual encounters could be explained naturally. Still, millions of Catholics believe that Mary has been and is continuing to communicate with the Church. Not only this, but Rome has incorporated into her Mariology much of what the apparitions have claimed.
Scripture warns us that spirits can bring a false gospel to men. The apostle John writes in 1 John 4:1:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
As Christians, if it is true that the witnesses to the Marian apparitions have seen spirits, then we are commanded to test these spirits. John goes on to explain how we test the spirits,
“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”
Scripture makes clear that it is by the confirmation of the true nature of Christ that we can know if a spirit is from God or from the devil. The eleven approved apparitions were not arbitrary in their mission. Each apparition brought with it a message for the Church. It is by these messages that one can readily test the spirits and see if they are from God.
We find throughout Scripture holy angels appearing to men. But they neither claim honor for themselves (Rev 22:19) nor do they bring any message that would contradict the gospel (Dan. 9, Luke 1, etc.). One should understand that these holy angelic visitations were for a very specific and special purpose in redemptive history (e.g. messages to Israel, anticipation of Christ, etc.). We should be skeptical when we hear of Christians today claiming that they are in communication with angels, since the canon of Scripture is closed. Yet, evil spirits are presented as being a constant threat and they could, quite possibly, appear to anyone at anytime, for the purpose of corrupting the true gospel (Eph 6:12).
Before we critique the messages of “Mary,” to see if they are compatible with the gospel, let us take a look at some past incidents of false supernatural intervention. It should be understood that both of these examples, Islam and Mormonism, are agreed upon by the majority of both Catholics and Protestants as presenting a false gospel and distorted view of Christ.
First, let us consider Islam. The Muslim religion is not a splinter of the Christian church, yet it claims to be the continuation and completion of the revelation of God found in Judaism and Christianity. Islam portrays its religion as containing the true revelation, or “gospel,” of man’s reconciliation with God, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Qu’ ran. When we study how Muhammad obtained the Qu’ ran we come across a very interesting account. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was approached by an angel, the very Gabriel of the Bible. Gabriel taught the illiterate man how to read and write, and over the next twenty-three years helped him produce the Qur’an. What was Gabriel’s message to Muhammad? First, he gave Muhammad a position that Muslims consider to be higher than Jesus by stating, “Oh Muhammad! Truly you are the messenger of God” (At-Tabari 2/207). Next, the spirit composed the Qu’ ran with Muhammad – a writing which is at complete odds with the gospel, one that strips Christ of his deity and denies his atoning work on the cross (4:171, 4:157). Did Muhammad speak with a spiritual being? If so, then the spirit’s message would fail the test of Scripture and it can be dismissed as a spirit not sent from God.
Our next example is Mormonism, which is a unique cult of Christianity. Like Islam, this movement began with an angelic visitation. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, professed to have received revelation from God through the angel Moroni who visited Smith on multiple occasions (found in Smith’s Elder’s Journal, among other writings). Like Muhammad, Moroni gave Smith a position of power by stating that, “God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations.” He then instructed him in the translation of the Golden Plates which contained the further revelation of God to restore the church from the Trinitarian heresy that had plagued it. Moroni also told Smith “that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained” on the plates (from the History of the Church, chapters. 1-5). The theology of the Mormon Church, starting with Smith, denies the gospel. Jesus’ deity, defined in the Trinity, is rejected and his atoning work is nullified (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 372, here Smith calls the Trinitarian God a “monster”). Did Smith speak with an angel? If so, this false spirit, Moroni, brought a different gospel that has led millions to an erroneous understanding of Jesus.
These are but two very brief examples of false religious movements that began with a revelatory claim from a supernatural spirit. The list could be greatly expanded. But these examples highlight the importance of testing the spirits. Islam has become the world’s largest religion, and Mormonism is the fastest-growing Christian cult.
The Roman Catholic Church is not exempt from the command of 1 John 4:1. Any doctrine that is antithetical to Scripture and propagated by false spirits should immediately be rejected. Rome should expect to meet with attacks upon the gospel and, for that reason, should be ready to “test any spirit” in order to refute the message brought in place of the true gospel. With eleven approved apparitions, one would expect the Catholic Church would have ample opportunity to adhere to John’s teaching and put each of these apparitions to the test. Instead, as we shall see, the Bible was not used to define the spirits. Rather, the spirits defined new Catholic dogma. What can be accomplished by testing the Marian apparitions? If these spirits brought “new revelation” that contradicts God’s Word, then these apparitions are disqualified. Therefore, every doctrine based on these messages must also be disqualified. So let us test the spirits.
To define a contradiction of the gospel, we must show that these apparitions preach a different Christ than Scripture. Rather than denying outright Christ’s divinity or atonement, as in Islam and Mormonism, these apparitions are much more subtle in their revelations. As we shall see, they disqualify themselves by taking from Christ: His authority, His honor, and His role as exclusive mediator. If we are to take seriously the first commandment — that we shall have no other gods before the Lord (Ex 20:3) — then any spirit that steals any of these things from God has disqualified itself. It is a false spirit.
The authority of Christ and the apparition of Guadalupe
The apparition at Guadalupe promises to “reward” her servants by “making them happy and worthy of recompense” if they do what she asks. She will give “all of (her) love, compassion, help and protection” because she is their “merciful mother.” What needs to be done to receive such privilege? You must “love” her, “invoke” her and “confide” in her. She also commands her servant to “go in my name” and calls him her “son.” Her final speech should be read in its entirety:
“Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything. Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, who will not die now of it. Be assured that he is now cured.”
It is not difficult to see the many titles and positions of Christ that are claimed by this spirit. Jesus states in Matt. 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus, not Mary, can give us rest. We are under His protection, not Mary’s. Psalm 91:4 states, “He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.” Our protection and peace is found in God alone. Yet this spirit claims it for itself.
Also the spirit steals Christ’s title of good shepherd when it declares “her” people are within “her fold.” In John 10:16 Jesus states, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
Not only this, but the spirit blatantly demands the glory of God for itself. We see this when it commands its servant to “invoke” or call upon its name. Paul defines a true believer as “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” It is the name of Jesus that we must call upon, not Mary, especially in the way this spirit commands; where we see it commanding a basilica to be built in remembrance of its visit.
Be careful to notice that many apparitions command or insinuate that a building of some sort must be constructed for the purpose of worship. Why is this so antithetical to the gospel? “Mary’s” purpose for these buildings can be seen in her instruction to “come to the foot of this altar. Here graces will be poured out on all who ask for them, great or small.” It is a place of worship and pilgrimage that millions travel to each year, all for purpose of adoring the spirit who commanded its construction. Jesus words in Luke 4:8 clearly show this false worship to be idolatrous, “Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”
The exclusivity of salvation in Christ and the apparition of Laus
According to the witnesses of the sighting at Laus, “Mary revealed herself as the reconciler and refuge of sinners,” The spirit’s message was, “I have asked my Son to give me Laus for the conversion of sinners,” adding that it was her deepest wish, “that all men should be brought to understand the love God offered them, and be encouraged to turn in repentance to her Son.” When speaking of the Pope, the spirit states, “the Holy Father will suffer greatly. I shall be with him till the end to receive his sacrifice.” When addressing the need for Christ, the Spirit makes this amazing decree, “I have suffered all of the time for the rest of you! If I do not wish my Son to abandon you, I must take it upon myself to pray for this continually. And the rest of you think little of this. In vain you will pray, in vain you will act, you will never be able to make up for the troubles I have taken over for the rest of you”(emphasis added).
In this apparition the spirit steals from Christ His unique role as mediator to God. Rom. 5:1 states, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that Christ is our mediator. We do not need a mediator to Christ. For He alone is the unique and perfect intercessor to God. Gal. 2:16 concurs:
“nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
It is in Christ alone that we have forgiveness of sin. For Mary to have any additional role is to deny the true essence of the gospel itself.
The spirit also claims that by its power, believers are sustained in Christ. Again, this could not be more antithetical to Scripture. Jesus states in 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” We abide in Christ, not Mary. Also, the perseverance of our salvation is in Christ’s hands. John 10:28 states, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” God’s sustaining power of salvation has nothing to do with Mary.
This claim by “Mary” to be the mediator to Christ is a common theme among all the apparitions. The apparition at Pontmain states, “Oh! Do Pray my children, God will answer you very soon. My son allows himself to be moved.” The apparition of Fatima makes the claim that, “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” And at the end of the coming suffering, that the spirit predicts, it is not Christ who will be victorious but, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Moreover, all who are to triumph are to be consecrated in this “Immaculate Heart.” When praying for repentance for one’s sins, those at Fatima pray, “O Jesus, it is for your love, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” The common theme of “Mary’s” mediator role, which is displayed by the spirit’s part in forgiving sins and also being the one trespassed against is blatantly obvious in the spirit’s message.
This identity theft against Christ continues with the apparition of Beauraing when the spirit commands the witness to “sacrifice yourself for me.” This is referring to the witness giving his life in devotion to Mary. What of scripture? Col. 3:24 states, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Again, we are to serve Christ, not Mary. Moreover, Christ alone has the authority to reward our good works (2 Cor. 5:10), which is irreconcilable with the claims that Mary will reward those who obey her message.
At the apparition at Banneux the spirit proclaims that it has, “come to relieve suffering and believe in me and I will believe in you.” At the apparition of Akita, the spirit makes an even bolder claim, “Those who place their confidence in me will be saved.” Some argue that this is a physical salvation from coming chaos, yet whether physical or spiritual, salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8).
This role of mediator that the spirit advocates is without biblical warrant and is completely disputed by Scripture. Acts 4:12 states, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Likewise, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus states, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) as well as, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:14). There is no abiding in Mary, there is no life in Mary, and Mary’s name does not save men. Catholics may agree with this in theory, yet by giving Mary any part in the salvation that belongs to Christ alone, the true gospel is distorted and a new erroneous gospel emerges.
By testing the Marian apparitions we find they are antithetical to the gospel. Christ’s titles, position, authority, power, atoning work, and honor are claimed by a spirit claiming to be Mary. Therefore, we conclude that the Marian apparitions are false spirits, in the same vein as the spirits that created Islam, Mormonism and other false religions. The influence of these Marian apparitions is monumental and widespread throughout the Catholic Church.
Satan is described in 2 Cor. 11:14 as one who “disguises himself as an angel of light.” Paul therefore concludes that, “it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” It is apparent that a servant of Satan can appear in a form that the witness will falsely believe to be benevolent. God is gracious in warning us in His Word how to avoid being a victim of this ruse. We must test the spirits. The Marian apparitions are spirits that do not pass the test. The gospel they preach is not the gospel of the Bible. Rather, the messages are nefarious and must be rejected and opposed.