Is Anyone not Part of the New Age Movement?
All those not part of the New Age movement, please stand up!
This is a statement that comes to my lips whenever I read about this rapidly growing cult in the United States. From entertainers Shirley MacLaine and John Denver to writer M. Scott Peck, it seems like nearly everyone in the realms of entertainment, psychology, modern philosophy and religion are being targeted as involved in this movement. The lists that appear in such publications as The Watchman Expositor1 seem to reveal a massive deception underway, trying to destroy the Christian faith.
Cult watchers report that New Age teachings are infiltrating the mainline churches. And having once been a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, I can personally confirm these disturbing reports. The recent controversy over the “Re-Imaging God” conference, which endorsed New Age ideas and the feminist agenda, has been calmed by an official distancing of that denomination from the conference planners. However, a more insidious link between New Age thinking and the PCUSA can be seen in the evangelism program recently endorsed by their general assembly. The evangelism program launched in the late 1980s was originally entitled “New Age Dawning.” The name was subsequently changed to “New Day Dawning,” after two general assembly votes. The program, however, clearly reflects the New Age philosophy of “many paths to salvation.”
I was still a PCUSA minister when the preliminary phases of the program were being developed, and I was trained as an “evangelism consultant” by one of the originators of the program. It basically advocated the nonjudgmental sharing of “faith stories,” where the evangelist tries to find common links with the other person and develop an appropriate “dialogue.” Everyone's faith story is considered valid, and no one is condemned. The evangelist must “look for truth” in all faith stories. This is exactly what the New Age movement teaches. There is a rejection of exclusivistic Christianity, which adheres to Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation (John 14:6). Instead, the idea of many paths, as taught by Hinduism, is accepted as truth.
Yet, despite such a clear correlation, are the critics right when they say that New Age teachings are influencing certain churches? Are not some of these New Age themes simply the outcroppings of theological liberalism? Which system is influencing which? And is there a universal threat rising against Christianity, as people like David Hunt and Texe Marrs warn?
A Nebulous Religion
A few years ago, I was sitting in a mall in Knoxville, Tennessee, reading Walter Martin's book, The New Age Cult, when a woman approached me, soliciting a contribution for a local relief agency. She saw the book I was reading, and inquired about it. I was soon involved in a heated discussion with a flesh-and-blood New Ager! But I found myself fighting a losing battle. She twisted and distorted every Bible passage I brought up. Clarity was quickly lost. Themes I knew to expect arose, yet in peculiar ways. As she left, telling me I was unloving and self-righteous, I felt as if I had failed.
The size and shape of the New Age cult are unclear because it has arisen from Hinduism. Hinduism is very eclectic, and to an outsider it appears to be a mixture of many beliefs–even contradictory beliefs. Over the ages, Hinduism has adapted and absorbed ideas from other religions, including Buddhism and Islam. In more recent years, Hinduism has been trying to absorb Christianity.
In the West, music groups like the Beatles have promoted the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation. Certain Buddhist and Hindu elements were already finding acceptance in the United States, but the Beatles certainly popularized them. From that beginning nearly thirty years ago, the movement has grown and changed. To succeed, it has taken many Christian teachings, altered them, and fed them back to biblically illiterate churchgoers, gaining many converts. Jesus is seen, for example, as one of the many avatars (or incarnations) of the god Shiva. Jesus is one in a line of “sons of God.”
Walter Martin, quoting a New Age source, reveals this teaching about Christ:
What is the Christ? Within all life there exists a quality, an energy, which has as its basic characteristic irresistible growth, irresistible and inevitable expression of divinity. It is a quality which says that whatever form I am enclosed in, I will not be held prisoner by that form, but I will transform it into a greater form. I will use all life, all experiences as stepping stones to greater revelations of divinity. The Christ is the basic evolutionary force within creation.2
The doctrines of the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Trinity, and grace are all consequently distorted and corrupted. The basic teaching on the nature of God follows a strange course, also. Martin, quoting Jane Roberts in her book The Seth Material, shows that God is not one individual, but an energy gestalt … a psychic pyramid of interrelated, ever-expanding consciousness that creates … This absolute, ever-expanding, instantaneous psychic gestalt, which you may call God if you prefer, is so secure in its existence that it can constantly break itself down and rebuild itself.3
This view is nearly identical to the Hindu concept of the brahmanat-man – the universal consciousness to which all souls are trying to return, and which periodically creates and destroys.
Reincarnation and the desirability of a one-world political and religious order are also common themes among the New Agers. It should be obvious to the Christian, that our belief in but one way of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is not compatible with such a religion. If orthodox Christianity cannot and will not be incorporated into the New Age, what will happen? According to Texe Marrs, part of the plan of the New Age movement will be to remove those who will not comply with it. 4 This is where the direct threat to our faith arises.
Properly Estimating the Enemy
In a war situation, it is crucial for an army to properly identify the enemy's extent and capability. In Operation Desert Storm, a few years ago, the United States military apparently underestimated the number of SCUD missile launchers which Iraq had. This led to a difficult situation, with Israel and Saudi Arabia being open to random missile attacks. On the other hand, the Iraqi forces often seemed larger and more threatening than they really were. We can apply this to the realm of spiritual warfare.
As Christians, we can both overestimate and underestimate our enemy. We can either give too much credit to Satan, or take him too lightly. So, is the New Age movement a unified and universal conspiracy? The answer is both yes and no.
We have to start out by saying yes, because we know that its origin is common to all false religions. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-26 that all fallen humanity is in a state of rebellion against God. Unregenerate people worship the creature rather than the Creator. The common elements that appear in false religions are but dim remnants of Adam's true original religion. The image of God in humanity remains, but it is distorted and clouded by sin.
Added to this are the direct and outright deceptions of the Father of Lies (John 8:4). The Devil and his fallen angels are at war with God, and they are actively deceiving humanity. The original deception leveled at Eve in the Garden, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), is exactly what the New Agers are teaching. Paul tells us that all false religions are nothing more than the worship of the demonic (1 Corinthians 10:19-22; 1 Timothy 4:13). This same truth is revealed in Deuteronomy 32:15-18, where the Israelites are warned against practicing the demonic religions of the Canaanites.
The conclusion, then, is that the New Age cult should be seen as a unified threat to Christianity. It may not have a clear structure, at this point, but it has a single author and mind behind it. The “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) is clearly the voice who speaks as Seth and others to the modern mediums.
On the other hand, we also have to say that this cult, like hundreds before, is limited by the restraining power of the Holy Spirit. The Father of Lies wants us to fear his ability to overwhelm and destroy us. He delights in the sensationalizing of the New Age movement. If he can paralyze the church in fear, guiding Christians into a fatalistic eschatology, then he can gain even more victories. Our true Father tells us in Scripture that the victory belongs to him (Psalm 98:1-2; 1 John 5:4-5). Jesus himself promises that the elect will not be deceived, and that for their sake the days of tribulation will be cut short (Matthew 24:22-24). We do not have to fear any of these attacks by Satan! Christ shall win the battle.
Four Bits of Advice
Instead of responding in fear or ignorance, we must stand and fight. This can be done in four basic ways:
First, we must know what we believe. If we know even the basic truths of the Bible, we can battle point-by-point with those who hold false views (2 Timothy 3:13-15). This means we must study the Bible and the doctrinal summary of it found in the Westminster standards, so that we can give an adequate defense of what is true.
Second, we need to be aware of the basic beliefs of the New Age cult. Many books summarize New Age teachings, but due to the fluid nature of this false religion, the theologians of the church need to continue to clarify and classify the New Age teachings for the rest of the church, and supply the church with books which expose the latest heresies. Since the Deceiver never comes up with anything truly new, the responses of orthodox Christianity to previous heresies remain ever sure.
Third, we must be constantly prepared to do battle (Ephesians 6:10-18). We are not living in peacetime. We need not only to know what we believe, but also to be aware of the spiritual war going on around us. We need to be aware of our own spiritual state, and be ever aware of the Tempter's power to lead us astray. We do battle with principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12). We need to put on the full armor of God, and stand firm, prayerfully trusting in his grace.
Finally, we must not be tricked into thinking that the threat is overwhelming. It may be dire and great, but Christ will be victorious. We have nothing to fear. The victory belongs to the Lord. May he use this situation to draw his people unto himself, and ever deepen our faith in him and knowledge of him.