Religion: Dead or Alive?
Sabbath Day Sermon given on Saturday 8 July 2000
The sudden popularity of the New Age religions following the Second World War did not occur in a vacuum. Starting as a slow leak into our culture through certain intelligentia, it at length became a flood that swept away the masses. In accounting for its success we may level accusing fingers in many directions but perhaps, in doing so, miss some important things. The purpose of this essay is not to give an overall review of the contributing factors which have led to the New Age success (and Christianity's demise) but to home in on just one or two which I do not feel are always adequately treated.
Christianity has always been under attack, and its detractors have always been able to find a surplass of human failings to drive home their point. We may point to the effects of institutionalised Christianity on the soul in creating a conformist mentality by compulsion rather than by direct spiritual appeal, even though this would be too simplistic and unjust a model. The appeal of the New Age has always been, on the one hand, spiritual experience and on the other, the claim of self-realisation. This lies at the core of Buddhism and, to some extent, its ammenuensis Hinduism too.
But the trouble with this package of promise, appealing though it is, is that it always leads to one degree of demonisation or another. In many respects orthodoxy had created a spiritual condition in people that left them open and vunerable to the New Age carrot - they were hungry to know who they really were and to actually experience the spiritual life in a more tangible, dynamic and concrete way.
There is, it would seem, an enormous gulf between the first Christians of the New Testament era and 21st century Christians, even though there are plenty of charismatics trying to mimick their forebears. Many of the first Christians had the gift of speaking foreign languages without any sort of training whatsoever - today Christians babble like demented babies thinking they have the same gift. The first Christians had a deep abiding joy - today many Christians hop up and down shouting words and phrases parrot-fashion like monkeys skipping around in a cage in the zoo. The first Christians were able to heal all diseases - today most Christian healings are only temporary, and those who threw their crutches away at some revivalistic meeting are soon back on them again. The first Christians dreamed dreams, saw visions and made prophecies that literally came to pass - today most modern Christian dreams, visions and prophecies are wildly off the mark. The modern and the old seem to be worlds apart, and yet, here and there, we see the odd manifestation of that New Testament Spirit.
Somewhere between the moden day conservative Baptist and the modern day charismatic Pentecostal lies a Third Way with neither the Baptist hesitation and dogma or the wild excesses and counterfeit Pentecostal manifestations. There is a spiritual reality that embraces the sober, cautiousness of the Baptist with the faith of the spiritual gift-believing Pentecostal, that is New Testament sobriety and real supernatural miracle-working. It's there....somewhere.
Legalism has always been a problem in the Church but it has especially manifested itself in the last century-and-a-half with the Mormons, Dawn Bible Students (early Jehovah's Witnesses), the Armstrongite Worldwide Church of God (now in a Protestant tail-spin), and many Messianic Jewish groups. Christians are looking back and asking themselves: "What's missing? What aren't I doing that I should be doing? Where is my faith deficient? Why isn't God revealing Himself in the way he did in apostolic times?" And in their frustration they are experimenting with everything and anything, looking for that special ingredient that will activate the Christian magic potion. The quest has no doubt been sincere but the results, more often then not, disasterous. This has made orthodoxy retort, "I told you so!" as though they knew the missing ingredient all along and yet for some reason weren't using it. And, of course, behind all this the atheists is smugly smiling, saying, "You poor deluded fools! The problem is that the New Testament story is all myth. You're searching for something that never existed in the first place."
The lie of atheism is that there is no god. The lie of the New Age is that man is god. And God has much to say about both and in particular how these sentiments corrupt man's thinking and deceive him in his religious experiences, making him into a lawless creature unable to distinguish right from wrong, or truth from error, and doomed to destruction (2 Thess.2:3). Of this self-conceited, New Age-inspired man, Paul says: "He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God" (v.4, NIV). Though this prophecy is believed by many to refer only to the end-time Antichrist, I am quite sure that it is also of more general application to every man or woman who is antichrist. It sets the agenda of the New Ager, showing how he exalts himself, effectively worshipping himself in the ultimate cult of egotism, setting himself up as God in God's temple which is his physical body (1 Cor.6:19). When you worship yourself, putting yourself above everything and everyone else, claiming your physical body to do with as you wish for sexual immorality, or allowing demonic spirit guides to take possession of it, you are proclaiming yourself to be God. It is the ultimate blasphemy. It is the dual sin of atheism and the New Age, which are, in their spiritual result, one and the same.
Now this lawless spirit has, tragically, infected the Christian Churches, and particularly the charismatic wing. And whilst they proclaim 'Jesus' they are, for the most part, indulging in self-worship. It is a pseudo-Christian cult of the ego. "...God sends them a powerful delusion, so that they will believe the lie...." (v.11). Oh yes, there is plenty of religious experience for those who want it on their own terms but God calls it a "powerful delusion" and He Himself sustains it! How can God "send" anyone a "powerful delusion"? How can that be right, or just? Oh, it's just, alright, and He gives His reason: "They perished because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (v.10). Yes, they use the word "saved" alright, even "Jesus", "God" and the magical word "love", but using the right words or catch phrases does not make a person spiritual. Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself warned: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only he who deos the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from Me, you evil-doers!'" (Mt.7:21-23, NIV). He also said: "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord', and do not do what I say?" (Lk.6:42, NIV).
Now just because someone goes about driving out demons and performing miracles does not mean that they are of God. Neither is saying, "Lord, Lord", or "Jesus, Jesus", enough. The condition for salvation is, as always (and, oh, how so many Christians hate this word), obedience. The carnal man, hundry for the supernatural, will go straight towards the first sitgnpost which says: "Miracles here, but you can do your own thing!" And that's the New Age movement, and indeed, all false religion. But God says: "Do what I tell you, and I will send miracles of My own choosing as and when I deem you need them." He promises nothing else in the realm of the supernatural except a changed heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Mt.5:8, NIV). Salvation is for those "with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop" (Lk.8:15, NIV). He doesn't promise a problem-free ride either: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (Jn.16:33, NIV). Indeed, that is how we are purified, that is how we come to see God, by facing trouble, letting it refine us, and finally by overcoming through Christ. This is the real miracle because in the process we become Christ-like. John said: "...we know that when (Christ) appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 Jn.3:2, NIV) and really sums up the whole purpose of the spiritual life in these words: "If anyone acknowledges that Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him" (1 Jn.4:15-17, NIV).
We have arrived at the core of true religion, or the true Gospel, and the purpose of everything. Believe in Christ by living a life of obedience and submission to Yahweh, which will make us one with God and fill us with His love, because God is love. As we are filled with this love and share it with us, so we are changed and become more and more like Christ, and are able to get through life's difficulties with a song in our hearts - difficulties which cannot be avoided - knowing that at the end of the day a great and glorious reward awaits us in heaven, a reward we are evn now partaking of in part in this life. By living in Christ - obediently and faithfully - our stresses and worries are taken away and we are enabled to live victoriously as complete men and women. Why live any other way? Why live in misery in this both this life and the next? Why, as Paul says, "be condemned (for not) believ(ing) the truth and...delight(ing) in wickedness" (2 Thess. 2:12, NIV).
Atheism and the New Age are dead religions and the ultimate idolatry. True religion, as defined by God, consists in following Christ and living in His love, free of all condemnation. For, as Paul said, "from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ). So then, brothers, stand firm..." (v.13-15).
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Last updated on 29 January 2001
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