The Apostle Paul’s ministry passion was that the church become mature in Christ, necessitating believers to root themselves in biblical truth instead of falsehood. Pastors should share Paul’s zeal and follow his lead, especially concerning exposing common New Age influences in the church, such as yoga, reincarnation, and other so-called mystical practices. But back to Paul. The leadership of the church should:
“equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
This goal for growth requires spiritual discernment since false teachings abound and are promoted through deceptively persuasive means.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).
If the church resists error and is grounded in the truth, then it can communicate the gospel message with integrity, “speaking the truth in love,” and it will grow “to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
The Greek for “speaking the truth in love” involves more than just talking or sharing words. It means to manifest or radiate the truth in every way. So, to coin a term, the church should be “truthing” in every way. It is fitting because she follows the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
What is the New Age Movement?
When I was a young campus minister and fledgling author in the 1980s, I often addressed a growing spiritual phenomenon called “The New Age Movement,” which propagated a worldview that was a heady mixture of Eastern mysticism, Western occultism, and psychology of human potential. [i] In its various forms, it advocates the worldview of pantheism: all is divine, and we can find divine potential within ourselves. In this philosophy, it’s not sin against God that hinders us but ignorance of our divine potential.
The New Age Movement is not new. It is the most recent repeat of the second-oldest religion, the spirituality of the serpent. Its impulse is foreign to none of us. The appeal is ancient, indeed. Satan seductively sold its rudiments to our first parents in the garden. The offer was to forsake God’s way of life and believe the serpent’s promise that in rebelling against God, Adam and Eve could “be as gods” and would not die. They could gain power and knowledge apart from God and suffer no ill effects. Satan lied; Adam and Eve complied; and we all died (Genesis 3:1-7). [ii] Only the work of Jesus Christ can rescue us from our estrangement from God due to sin (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-9).
While it is seldom in the headlines today, its influence remains in the culture at large and even in evangelical churches. The New Age Movement is an umbrella term for various people, organizations, events, practices, and ideas. It is not a centrally organized movement with one leader. Although it includes cults, sects, and even denominations, it is not restricted to any of these. Instead, it is a constellation of like-minded people and groups all desiring a spiritual and social change that will usher in a New Age of self-actualization. This scenario entails that we throw off both traditional monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and secular humanism (rationalism, atheism, skepticism). [iii] Today, the optimistic emphasis on a widespread spiritual awakening, a “new age,” has moved to the background, but New Age practices and beliefs still abound and deceive many. Let us consider two of them: yoga and reincarnation.
Yoga and you
Several years ago, a large church in the Denver metropolitan area asked me for a consultation. It was not about a church building plan or administrative issue but about a request by a parishioner to teach a yoga class at the church. She was a member of the church, not a Hindu evangelist. I advised them to decline the offer, however good her motives may have been. Why?
Yoga is an ancient spiritual discipline rooted in Hinduism, the predominant religion of India. Its original purpose is to yoke one to the divine through various postures, breathing exercises, and chanting sacred words or mantras. The goal is not to create a more supple or happy body but to induce an altered state of consciousness (or trance) in which one discovers the divine within, according to a pantheistic understanding.
Hindu advocates brought yoga to the West in the 1960s under the guise of mere physical practice. While some yoga classes may downplay the original Hindu orientation of yoga, its essential purpose is at odds with the Christian worldview since it looks within for salvation, not to Jesus Christ’s atoning death and victorious resurrection. Moreover, the change in consciousness produced by yoga can open one up to demonic influences. [iv]
Not reincarnation but resurrection
Another area of New Age influence is reincarnation and karma. A 2021 Pew Research survey found that “Catholics are more likely than Protestants to say that they believe in reincarnation (38% vs. 26%)” and that 33% of Americans believe in it.” [v]
A few years ago, I ate at a restaurant in the very New Age town of Boulder, Colorado. After finding out they did not accept credit cards, they offered me a “karma envelope,” which allowed me to pay with a check later. It would be good karma to pay the bill and bad karma not to pay the bill. I sent the check with a short essay on why I did not believe in karma. No one should believe in karma and reincarnation for many reasons, but here is the most powerful one: the person and work of Jesus Christ.
We know about Jesus from historically reliable documents written only a short time after the events they describe and by credible witnesses. The church has faithfully passed these documents down to us through the centuries. The figure who dominates the New Testament did not have a Hindu or otherwise New Age worldview. He was a monotheist and not a pantheist. He and his apostles taught that he alone was God incarnate and that his death and resurrection uniquely credentialed him as Lord and Savior (John 3:16-18; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). We do not attain salvation by working off bad karma through good karma to leave the wheel of reincarnation and eventually attain enlightenment. Jesus, who was the Messiah, not a Hindu god, offered himself as the way to eternal life. As he said to Martha at the grave of Lazarus:
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Jesus died and rose from the dead; his death and life are the patterns for all who believe in him. As Paul wrote:
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22; see also Daniel 12:2).
Those who believe and receive Jesus are forgiven of their sins against a holy God and freed from sin, Satan, and death’s power (John 1:12-13). We cannot atone for our sins through good karma, nor do we have more than one lifetime to get right with the Almighty.
Just as people are destined to die once and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many, and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27-28).
New Age no more
As Paul wrote, for the church to “speak the truth in love,” it must be rooted in “the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:15; 4:13), and it must be wary of teachings or practices that can blow it off course through the dissimulations of false teachings. Yoga and reincarnation are false teachings that Christians must resist so that the church can become the mature body of Christ that Christ himself desires.
[i] See Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986) and Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988).
[ii] This paragraph is adapted from Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement (p. 17). InterVarsity Press, 1988. Kindle Edition.
[iii] This paragraph is adapted from Groothuis, Confronting the New Age (p. 18). InterVarsity Press, 1988. Kindle Edition.
[iv] Groothuis, Confronting the New Age, 77-80.
[v] “Views on the Afterlife,” Pew Research Center (November 23, 2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/11/23/views-on-the-afterlife.
Exposing Error from the Pulpit