Ben H Swett
Ben H Swett
Temple Hills, MD
Temple Hills, MD
(an exchange of letters)
10 May 1977
Dear Ben Swett,
I always liked you and respected many of your opinions on a lot of subjects. However, the more I read in the Bible and in other books and talk with people, I become increasingly concerned about something you were involved with.
I remember you said you would 'meditate,' putting your mind in a certain state so it 'spun' freely without the hindrance of the body, working much faster. You said you observed many other 'worlds' than this one and had seen Jesus. On reading the Bible, I found in Deuteronomy 18:9-14 the practices of using one's own powers to reach the 'spiritual' world, which we would say was related to parapsychology, was an abomination to God punishable by death. They are mentioned again in Galatians 5:20-21 as sorcery or witchcraft and it says "those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." Also, in Acts 19:18-19 new Christians at Ephasus confessed and renounced magical or curious arts and burned all their books on the subject. It is treated similarly in other parts of the Bible.
The reason I think it is such an abomination to God is that since man is in a state of separation from God he cannot reach God through his own efforts. This is the main difference between Christianity and other religions. Other religions try to reach God or what they consider the Ultimate through merit or some form of meditation. In this sense, Christianity cannot technically be called a religion. Christianity says that man, through his own efforts, cannot reach God at all. God had to do something to bring man to himself. Christianity says God reached down to man to offer a free gift through his son Jesus Christ which we are to accept or reject.
If God cannot be reached through practices that are of our own efforts, there are other powers that we can and do reach -- our own and the devilŐs. In fact, this is probably why some of these practices are often used in other religions which God said not to partake of. Paul said although idols are nothing they are backed by demons.
There are gifts of the spirit as mentioned in I Corinthians chapters 12, 13, 14. I have seen these gifts used and in some cases misused as spoken of in Chapter 14. They are just what the Bible calls them -- gifts, prayed for and accepted; not obtained from a form of meditation.
You said the Church today has neglected divine revelation. The Bible itself is divine revelation. ItŐs almost the next thing to God as it says in John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God." And they neglected it too.
But as for the God-given gifts, it says in I Thessalonians 5:20-22: "Do not despise prophesying but test everything; and hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil." The best way I know to test it is with the Bible. God does not lie. Satan, it says in the Bible, is a liar, and the father of lies, and he will deceive you.
I remember you believed in a form of reincarnation and you believed you had always been either a soldier or a priest in other lives, and you were here in this life to experience family life. In Hebrews 9:27 God says "And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment."
I have heard some visions from some people who had them and they were given by them. They didn't meditate to put themselves in a state of mind or a level of consciousness. God says all his gifts "are inspired by one and the same spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." (I Cor 12:11)
It says in Colossians 2:18, "Let no one disqualify you, taking his stand on visions,".
I wish this letter was on a happier subject, but what it appears you may be involved in makes me afraid for you. I suggest you pray about it and ask God to reveal to you the true nature of this -- don't meditate about it. Read your Bible.
I pray that God bless you richly
15 June 1977
That was a very interesting letter. Apparently you believe that I am -- or may be -- practicing abominations to God punishable by death. Although you say you are concerned for me, the whole tone of your letter is pure condemnation. In fact, I have rarely been so thoroughly damned, on so little evidence, in so arrogant and dogmatic a fashion.
Is that what they are teaching you in church? If so, I can see that I had better stay away from there, or I might be dragged out into the parking lot and stoned to death in the name of God.
I do not intend to "disqualify you" by "taking my stand on visions" -- but do you really believe that a little Bible study and a little fundamentalist dogma qualify you to sit in judgment on behalf of Almighty God?
Before you write such a letter to anyone else, you really should check out your reasons for presuming they are damned. For example:
Meditation is not a synonym for sorcery or witchcraft, and it is not condemned in the Bible. Look the word up in a concordance and see what the Bible actually says about it. Genesis 24:63, Psalms 1:02, 4:04, 19:14, 46:10, 104:34, 119:97, 119:148, and Philippians 4:8-9 (where "think upon" means "dwell upon" or "meditate upon" in the original Greek) will do for openers. Then see all those passages where Jesus teaches us that "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he."
If "Christianity says that man, through his own efforts, cannot reach God at all," somebody should have told Paul (Colossians 3:1-2) and the author of Hebrews (10:19-22, 11:06) and James (4:7-8). Does your church say that we are to be less responsible than the prodigal son, who remembered ("dwelt upon") the goodness and kindness and mercy of his father, picked himself up out of the pig-sty, and went home under his own power? Mine says we are to reach out into the realms of spirit and truth, seeking our Father, our Lord, and our only Home -- in faith that He will more than meet us halfway to guide our faltering steps.
Yes, we can reach our own powers and those of the devil -- by dwelling on our own selfish desires and fears, and by accepting gifts offered by spirits without checking them out. And yes, Satan and his slaves do tell lies and try to deceive people. But why should we find that surprising or frightening? A liar is a liar, and a tempter is a tempter, whether or not he happens to be wearing a physical body. He can only tempt us by offering us something we want or threatening us with something we fear. He can only deceive us to the degree we believe he is telling the truth -- or something we want to hear more than we want to hear the truth. So he has no power over us except insofar as we, ourselves, give him that power. We can resist Satan just as Jesus did in the wilderness, because -- like any con artist -- Satan cannot work his deceptions when he is recognized and exposed for what he is -- a selfish liar.
It is extremely dangerous to pray for the "Gifts of the Spirit" and then accept them without testing the spirit that gave them to see if it is Holy or unholy. That is what some of the Corinthians did. Because the Holy Spirit can and does provide all of the gifts, they assumed that such gifts are only provided by the Holy Spirit, and only to especially worthy people. So they made the manifestation of spiritual gifts a test of faith and a matter of personal pride.
In so doing, they opened themselves to deception. The "Gift of Tongues" that they prized so highly made them especially vulnerable, because they could not ascertain the source of utterances they did not understand. They did not know that the "Gift of Tongues" is really "automatic speaking" and therefore not substantially different from "automatic writing" or the use of a Ouija board.
Thus, through their pride in thinking they were "extra special Christians" they opened themselves to possession by demons masquerading as "the Holy Spirit." That is why God directed Paul to write to them and try to set them straight. He reminded them of Jesus's teaching that is it by their fruits -- not their gifts -- that we are to know who speaks for God and who does not. Since Paul didn't scold the Corinthians so hard in his second letter, they apparently got the message and started checking out the spirits behind these gifts according to the fruits they produced in men's lives.
Yes, I said the Church has neglected divine revelation -- and it has. Too many church people and too many of their leaders have assumed the age of revelation came to a close when the last apostle died. They say that God and Jesus no longer speak to man -- except through the now-ancient revelations recorded in the Bible. They are like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus's day, who were so sure God had told them everything they needed to know in the law of Moses that they rejected Jesus.
The Bible is the most valuable book in the world, but it is not the only source of truth. God Himself is the only source of Truth. Those who transfer that attribute from God to the Bible have in fact deified a book -- and that, my friend, is idolatry.
You said the Bible is "almost the next thing to God" and cited John 1:1 as your authority. If you will read on through the next 18 verses, you will find that John was referring to Jesus, not the Bible, as "The Word became flesh and dwelt among usÉ"
You quote Paul, where he said, "Do not despise prophesying, but test everything; and hold fast what is good; abstain from every form of evil." Amen. Now read Matthew 7:15-20, where Jesus tells us how to distinguish between true and false prophets. Then check Deuteronomy 18:21-22, I Corinthians 13:4-7, and Galatians 5:19-25 in order to know what to look for. Also note that Jesus showed John the Baptist how to decide who is sent from God (Luke 7:18-23) -- not by telling him; not by citing scripture; not by display of supernormal powers or spiritual gifts, but by the observable evidence that his life and work were motivated by the Spirit of Love and Truth. That is how we are to know them -- how we can distinguish one spirit from another, regardless of the means of communication involved -- and that is how we ourselves shall be known: by the fruits.
OK, so you do not believe in reincarnation. I believe that reincarnation is one of the things Jesus saves us from -- and by explaining how, I draw some people to him that others drive away from him and into the Eastern religions. If you want to consider that a sin, go ahead.
I certainly would not put much faith in any vision -- my own or anyone else's -- if the recipient was not is a state of calm and reverent joy and unselfish love for one or more people. Placing oneself in that state takes a little doing -- otherwise known as Christian meditation. ("Transcendental Meditation" and similar forms of auto-suggestion are trivial in comparison to the reality of Christian meditation, and are hardly worth fighting. Perhaps you have confused the two.)
So much for the points you raised in your letter. If you wish to discuss any or all of them further, I would be happy to do so. In any event, you need to take a hard look at the doctrines you are being taught, before they send you off on any more witch-hunts or inquisitions. By the fruits they manifest in your letter, those doctrines sound far more human than Holy. But you need not take my word for that. You can test the spirit behind these -- or any -- doctrines for yourself, using only the Bible. Take Galatians 5:19-24 as scriptural guidance and ask yourself: Do these teachings and commandments:
Lead with love -- or drive with fear?
Inspire reverent joy and peace of mind -- or anxiety and hostility?
Lead to patience and kindness, even toward sinners and suspected sinners -- or to compulsion and coercion?
Move people to dwell on goodness and good things -- or on badness and bad things?
Yield the faithfulness that earns trust -- or demand blind obedience to untested and untestable assertions?
Are they gentle -- or harsh?
Do they advocate self-control -- or control by outside forces?
Thus you may know them. And in exactly the same way, you can test the spirit behind this letter.
As for myself, I will say only this: I know that the promise set forth in John 14:21 is true, and I know what Paul was talking about in II Corinthians 12:2-6. That is my testimony. You may accept it or not as you wish.
His peace be with you,
11 July 1977
Dear Ben Swett,
I ask your forgiveness for my judgmental attitude and my bluntness. God has laid it on my heart to ask your forgiveness and I want to be right with God and with you. I want you to know I love and respect you.
The difference that remains between our beliefs is: does the Bible contain the word of God or is it the word of God? "All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Tim 3:16) and "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). As for me, I cannot judge one scripture less inspired than another without being subjective. I personally believe the Bible to be the authority for the Christian life and the test for truth in other sources (Acts 17:11). Fruits are important but not the whole story.
Another little test I believe to be in accordance with 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and can be demonstrated with all the visions of the New Testament is this: what we receive is for whose purpose and will? Does what one receives build up the church and edify, or does it satisfy our own curiosity?
I hope these things are taken in the spirit of love and concern in which they are written.
Go with God,
1 August 1977
You asked my forgiveness for having been blunt and judgmental -- and in so doing, you are no longer blunt or judgmental. So of course I forgive you. It would be foolish of me to think of you as you seemed to be in the first letter, after I received the second letter. (And I believe that is how the law of forgiveness works: we are to look at each other as we are, not as we once seemed, or even as we once were but are no longer.)
You believe the Bible is the Word of God; I believe it contains the Word of God -- plus some human words -- and that God also speaks to us in ways other than the Bible. I donŐt think we need to argue about that. It seems to me there is a deeper question here: you need a guide for moral decisions, and you do not want that guide to depend on your own subjective judgment. Good. I think that is wise. Too many people do not realize they need a guide independent of their own opinions.
So the real question is this: "Is the Bible a trustworthy guide for moral decisions?" Yes, I believe it is -- provided we know how to use it for that purpose.
First, I believe we should always look for to the spirit rather than the letter of what we find in the Bible. That means we need to read everything the Bible has to say on a given subject, and not just lift a line or a verse here and there as a "proof-text."
Second, I think it is important to distinguish between the spirit of the Old Testament and the spirit of the New Testament. The Old Testament features a good deal of Jewish nationalism, whereas the New Testament is both personal and universal. In most of the Old Testament, sin is conceived as crime against God, and sacrifice -- even blood sacrifice -- is seen as the most important form of worship. In the New Testament, sin is seen as "missing the mark" (amartia in Greek) and thus self-limiting or self-damaging. Mercy toward others is seen as more important than sacrifice.
Third, we need to realize that, because God loves us, His commandments are given to each of us for our own benefit. That means we are to apply His commandments to ourselves, not anyone else. And it puts all His commandments in a different light. For example, it means we are not asked to love God because He lacks something that only we can provide; it means we are asked to love God because it is good for us to have love for God in our hearts. In the same way, we are not asked to love our neighbor for our neighbor's sake, but because it is good for us to have love in our hearts. We are asked to forgive our neighbor because, if we go on and on harboring resentment or anger, it will eat our guts out.
Those who use the Bible as a source of "proof-texts" really do not have a guide independent of their own opinions, because they select the "proof-texts" and they almost always select something that seems to support what they already believe. Even when they are not consciously or subconsciously justifying their own opinions, they often miss the spirit of what was said by dwelling on the letter of how it was said. This whole approach to the Bible is called "literalism," and it was characteristic of the Pharisees.
Those who fail to distinguish between the spirit of the Old Testament and the spirit of the New Testament are more nearly Jews than Christians. They need to read everything Paul said about the Law and how hard -- or impossible -- it was to keep the Law, whereas the New Covenant set men free.
Those who use the Bible as a collection of laws by which to judge other people miss the spirit of the New Testament, and the purpose of Jesus's commandments, because they do not see those commandments were given for their own benefit. This approach to the Bible is called "legalism," and it was typical of the Scribes. (In fact, the Scribes were professional "Bible-Lawyers" who made their living by finding all the little legalistic, nit-picking interpretations they could.)
So, if we do not make the same mistakes as the Scribes and Pharisees, we can use the Bible as a trustworthy guide for our own lives.
Then we come to the matter of "by their fruits you shall know them" and "we shall know as we are known." You said that fruits are important, but not the whole story. However, I am not convinced that your statement is true -- especially since Jesus said that every tree which does not bear good fruit will be torn up and cast into the fire. Perhaps you would like to discuss this matter further.
I note that you mention using the purpose or will being served by a gift as a test. Yes, I agree with that, but I think we are saying the same thing, because there is no way to tell the purpose except by the results ("fruits"). Faith is essential, but it has to be put into action. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord is essential, but it does no good to call him "Lord, Lord" if we do not keep His commandments.
Finally, it is important to remember that Jesus said there is only one unforgivable sin -- blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That means we have a lot of room to grow in: all of our choices are not matters of spiritual life-and-death; we are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. It really couldn't be any other way, because God is a kind and loving Father, as Jesus says He is. But the Jews didn't see it that way, and sometimes we forget it.
His peace be with you,