As Christians make their plans for the New Year, Rev Stephen Brooks encourages believers to make sure it is Christ-centred, and that they don’t get lured by New Age philosophies
At the end of a year, clarifying your life purpose and intentions can help you to move with greater focus and clarity into the New Year. There are many ways to both find and develop your life purpose. Increasingly, Christians unwittingly participate in New Age practices. As author and church leader Rick Warren said, “I’ve never seen more people so hungry to discover and develop the spiritual dimension of their lives. That is why there is such a big interest in Eastern thought, New Age practices, mysticism and the transcendent.”
There are three stages of change: traditional, transitional and transformational. This process is enabled by the use of “facilitators/change-agents”. The intended result is that people abandon the traditional and succumb to changing. In the initial phase, old values are discredited or broken down; new values, beliefs and behaviours are then explored during the transition phase, and then new values become firmly grounded, replacing the old, in the final transformational phase.
The ‘New Age Movement’ is a general term for a diverse body of spiritual philosophies and practices. One could say it’s a mixture, in varying degrees, of Astrology, Eastern Mysticism, Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, Feng Shui, NLP and many more. At its core, New Age spiritual maturity is achieved by gaining access to the hidden knowledge that we are god, and that we create our own reality, our own truth.
Oftentimes, Christians are seduced by some of the more subtle and disguised expressions of the New Age Movement. Oprah Winfrey, ranked by a Gallup poll a few years ago as the 4th most influential woman in history, has contributed to the growth of New Age spirituality. Oprah, a deacon’s daughter, was raised in a Black Baptist Church; sexually abused by male relatives; became a promiscuous teenager and gave birth to a baby boy out of wedlock, who died in infancy. But then, ‘repenting’, returned to the church and began to speak frequently in churches with a special emphasis on practical spirituality.
When her television career began, Oprah frequently called her show “my ministry”. She gradually began to promote more and more New Age guests, such as Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Shirley MacLaine and Gary Zukav, and she has frequently spoken of her own New Age convictions. For example, she related how she heard, as a Baptist, that God was a jealous God and now responds, “Come on, let’s get over it, a jealous God is an insecure God… I believe in a Force, whatever that force is I call ‘God’.” Because of the popular respect for Oprah, her endorsements make a difference. For example, when she announced she had purchased 1,000 copies of her Marianne Williamson’s book, Return to Love (a New Age version of the Bible), the publisher received over 200,000 orders by the end of the day. Deepak Chopra’s book sold 130,000 copies the day Oprah promoted it on her show.
When Paul warns the Church to be aware of satan’s deceptions, he goes as far as to say that satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” and “his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 14-15). At times, it is hard to see clearly what is and what is not consistent with the Christian message. One doesn’t have to look far for the signs. Barna’s research (May 1, 2006) identified that “Harry Potter’s influence goes unchallenged in most homes and churches”; 78% of church-going teens have read and seen the movie/book series, but only 4% have experienced any teaching or discussion in church about the occult themes embedded in this medium.
The following questions may be the easiest way to discern some of the central elements of New Age thought and practice from a Christian standpoint.
- Does the practice originate from within the Christian tradition, or is it influenced by pagan, New Age or Eastern religion?
- Does it focus on the Person and life of Jesus Christ, or does it tolerate the worship of many gods?
- Is the purpose of the technique union with God, or is it self-realisation/self-enlightenment?
- Is the content of meditation the life and teaching of our Lord, or is it breathing techniques, mantras, etc?
- Does the spirituality sufficiently value the role of grace, or does it claim to be a ‘shortcut’ for people to ‘get in tune with God’?
There is nothing ‘new’ about this movement. It has its roots in the original fall of man in Genesis 3. Satan tempted man with the lie that if he stepped out to access the secret knowledge or wisdom (Gnosticism), his eyes would be opened (enlightenment), and he wouldn’t need to submit to the sovereign God anymore for he will be as God Himself.
While we cannot fault anyone’s desire to have a more authentic experience with God, it is important they do not submit to listening to leaders/change-agents, who are apt to lead them astray by the simple fact that they are using other religious practices for the answers, not the Bible. As the Bible says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).