We continue to be involved here at the Missionary Training Center.
During the two-year course here the students learn many things which will help prepare them for a career planting churches among a previously unreached people group. A course which was recently completed was ANIMISM.
An understanding of animism is critical if believers are to effectively proclaim the Gospel, teach the Bible, disciple believers, and plant mature churches. When it is not understood well by the missionary, syncretism, a mixture of animistic and Christian beliefs, is the result.
What is animism?
Animism is the default worldview held by all peoples who have not come to understand and believe the true Gospel of Jesus. New Age spirituality is rooted in animism, as is Wicca, karma, magic, shamanism, the Star Wars “force,” horoscopes, and even superstitious beliefs such as luck, fear of black cats, and the need to “knock on wood.” Most world religions have animistic beliefs and practices as significant features.
Animists often believe that many objects, both inanimate and animate, are indwelt by spirits. These spirits have power to help or harm people. Often the spirits of the dead are also thought to have power to influence the lives of the living. Thus people will cultivate favor with the spirits so they can have a successful crop, obtain physical healing, curse a neighbor, or obtain some other goal. Animistic “worship” usually consists in doing rituals in an attempt to get the spirits to do what one wants them to do.
Who are the animists?
Animistic beliefs are not only found among remote tribal people groups. They are quite commonly mixed with the formal or “high” religion which people profess, even highly educated urbanites. Even astrophysicist Carl Sagan spoke of worshiping the cosmos!
But the Bible is clear that all animistic practices are unnecessary, forbidden, and spiritually harmful for those who truly follow God (Deuteronomy 18:9-13). They amount to idolatry, since they put something in the place of God in a person’s heart.
How to deal with animism
During animism class the students were exposed to many varied animistic beliefs and practices from around the globe. They were challenged to think of how they would deal with these were they confronted with them on the mission field.
Animism is always firmly entrenched in the minds and hearts of animists. Many believe they have ample proof for their worldview. In one tribe the word in their language for “yes” sounds like the call of a certain jungle bird. So when attempting to communicate with the spirits, they will get an audible answer whenever the bird calls. This is sure proof that the spirits are answering.
How can a missionary counter such beliefs so that the Bible can be trusted and the truths of the Bible can be accepted? The answer always involves building solid, loving relationships with the people in the years of culture and language acquisition, living a godly testimony before them, translating the Scriptures into their language, and teaching God’s Word carefully and systematically in their language, beginning in Genesis, communicating to their cultural context.
Thank you for PRAYing for these missionary candidates as they prepare to serve Jesus in some of the hardest places in the world.