IS “GRAVE SUCKING” ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF “CHARISMANIA”?
By Joseph Mattera
There is something gaining more attention in some circles of the charismatic world called “grave sucking”.
Evidently, this refers to the practice of a believer going to the grave of a departed saint they revere (for example, Charles Finney or Kathryn Kuhlman) and lay on top of it and/or kneel in front of it so they can receive an impartation of the anointing (or mantle) of the departed saint.
This is nothing new. I heard several decades ago that Benny Hinn supposedly visited the gravesite of evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman to get her healing anointing. I also heard recently that a respected prophetic teacher I know visited the grave of Charles Finney (19th century revivalist) and had a tremendous experience with God as He renewed his vision and call to revive America. (Not sure this one exactly fits in the same category or that this leader would consider his experience “grave sucking”.) [We’re pretty sure by that leader’s explanation that it does NOT fit in the same category and that he does not consider his experience “grave sucking.” —Editor]
Also, regarding the possible connection between a manifestation of God at the grave of a departed saint, there is a story in 2 Kings 13:20-22 in which a person came back to life after he was inadvertently thrown into the grave of Elisha the prophet and happened to touch his bones!
While I am sure there are many well-intentioned and even some effective ministers who practice “grave sucking,” I have serious concerns regarding it. [We do not share this view that any ministers who practice it are well-intentioned or that they are “effective ministers,” except for the kingdom of darkness. One of the “effective ministers” the author is no doubt referring to is the New Age Neo-Charismatic leader of Bethel Church, Redding, CA, Bill Johnson, whose endorsement and encouragement of the practice was recently addressed in SLM. —Editor]
Before I list these concerns I want to say up front that I appreciate the fact that there is now more and more respect for church history. Furthermore, Hebrews 12:1-2 teaches us that the present day church is surrounded by a cloud of witnesses; this refers to the saints who have passed on to glory before us. This means that the church of the past is connected to the present and future church and that the First Testament saints are part of the New Testament church!
To be fair, I think any time we come face to face with a significant historical artifact, it can have a profound effect on us because the reality of the biblical or historical story becomes more real. This is why we visit museums; this is why many people are greatly affected when they visit one of the death camps of the Nazi Jewish Holocaust and why many Christians go to Israel and are blessed. It is an amazing experience to see firsthand the land of the Bible and to physically see the places where the saints of old walked with God.
I am sure that if I visited the grave of one of my heroes like Finney, Calvin or Luther, I would be greatly blessed. Not because their anointing is still in the grave but because the physical marker (their graves) may aid me in believing and remembering their lives and legacies, which could open me up by faith to go to another level with God. If that is all these so called “grave suckers” are doing then I am fine with it.
However, this is not the impression I am getting from what I have heard.
The following are seven concerns I have about grave sucking:
1. It distracts from the true power source of our anointing.
The Word of God is clear that the true source of our anointing is from God (Acts 1:8). James 4:4 teaches that if we draw near to God He will draw near to us. Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1 and 119, and 2 Timothy 3:15-16 teach that meditation on the word day and night is the key to our biblical success. Many charismatics want shortcuts to the anointing and desire results from an instant microwave experience or a one-time event. Instead of wasting their time traveling to “grave suck”, they should discipline themselves to seek God, pour over His word and dig down deep in His presence.
2. We get equipped for the work of the ministry by the present-day fivefold ministry gifts.
Ephesians 4:7-12 teach us that the grace we need to minister comes from the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers. Reading the context of the Bible clearly shows that the equipping and grace/impartation we need comes from those we are sitting under and trained by, not those who have already died. Hence, the spirit that was on Moses came upon 70 elders (Numbers 12) and then upon Joshua (Numbers 27) to help equip them to lead, but that experience was handed down personally to those who walked with Moses. We do not read about others in later generations getting Moses’ spirit; the same when Elijah passed his mantle onto Elisha.
Regarding John the Baptist coming in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17-19): that was referring to God divinely placing an assignment upon John from birth, it did not come from John finding Elijah’s grave and sucking out the anointing! Furthermore, John was carrying on the next phase of a ministry Elijah started and was perhaps the last in a line of prophets from the school of the prophets Elijah led at one time (which was started by the prophet Samuel).
Hence, the anointing, spiritual DNA and legacy of a person can be extended generationally via a divine assignment and/or training and impartation, but not through “grave sucking”.
3. The only spirit of a departed person that is promised is the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His followers after He left the earth (John 14-16) which He said would empower us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Consequently, the spirits of the departed saints are not sent down from heaven nor are they dispensed from the place where their bodies were buried.
4. It can make an experiential doctrine out of a mysterious unique biblical story.
As mentioned, 2 Kings 13 gives us a story of a person who came back to life after touching the bones of Elisha. Some have no doubt that the power of God was still in his grave and/or that the miracle-working anointing of Elisha was still residually present on his bones. We have to remember that this is a strange, unique, mysterious story and that it is dangerous to formulate a doctrine and/or practice based on one obscure passage. This is how cults have started. We need to compare scripture with scripture and if there is an isolated obscure passage we encounter, then we should refrain from conjecture and not make a doctrine out of it until we can establish a clear biblical pattern. Also, it must be noted that the person in this passage was raised from the dead. The Bible does not indicate that he received Elisha’s anointing, mantle or became a prophet.
Furthermore, that may have been just one sovereign act of God to remind the Jews of their heritage and the unique prophetic calling Elijah handed down to Elisha.
5. The spirit, power and anointing of these saints is no longer in the ground.
The Bible teaches that when believers are absent from the body they are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). This implies that our spirit leaves our body when we physically die. Hence, it is no longer on the earth and thus no longer in the grave.
6. It can lead to saint worship and necromancy.
One thing I greatly respect in the Christian Eastern Orthodox tradition is their love of the (spiritual) fathers and patriarchs. Unfortunately, some have taken their reverence too far and worship and pray to images of departed saints. There is a fine line between venerating the saints of old and worshipping them, especially to those who may be biblically ignorant among them. Also, many in this tradition have put the writings of the apostolic fathers (those leaders of the church who came after the first-century apostles) on the same level of scripture, something I disagree with for many reasons too numerous to cite here.
In the Roman Catholic tradition we actually see the official practice of Mary worship and saint worship. Furthermore, it is common for a Roman Catholic to pray to one of the canonized departed saints. Whenever we go to a departed saint for something instead of directly to Jesus we violate scriptures like 2 Timothy 2:5 and John 14:6, since we only have one designated mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ. Grave sucking comes perilously close to saint worship and, if not corrected, could also lead to communing (speaking) with departed saints. After all, if we can receive an anointing from the grave of a departed saint, who is to say we cannot receive advice and/or life altering visions from that same saint?
Finally, this could eventually lead to necromancy, which is witchcraft and has to do with conjuring up the spirits of the dead. Scripture teaches this is wrong even if you are trying to contact a departed saint (1 Samuel 28).
7. This could further divide the body of Christ.
Grave sucking seems like lunacy, not just to nonbelievers but probably to most Bible-believing Christians. Why? Because there is no specific biblical pattern that demonstrates it and/or commands or encourages it. Consequently, it further perpetuates the belief many hold in the evangelical camp that charismatics emphasize subjective experience more than the authority of scripture. Possibly the worst thing about grave sucking is that it could further divide the body of Christ at a time when we need true believers to unite more than ever before.###
[We agree that “grave sucking” is lunacy and another item on the long and growing list of demonically-inspired practices of Charismania and Charismaniacs. We also, however, believe that the time has come to name and call out the so-called leaders who espouse and promote such clearly demonic, New Age practices, such as the apparent chief leaders of same at this time, Bill and Beni Johnson, who we believe to be very, very spiritually dangerous people, in that they are leading multiplied thousands around the world into Biblically-condemned New Age religious practices and anti-Christ “doctrines of demons.” —Editor]