The New Age Christ
"But who do you say that I am?"
This was the question posed by the Lord Jesus to his disciples, as recorded in Matthew 16:15. It was a question joyfully answered by Simon Peter:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
When Peter made this tremendous confession, his meaning was clear. His Master was the unique, eternal Son of God, the one and only Christ, the Anointed one of God in whom there was salvation for sinners. Peter's use of the terms "Christ" and "Son of the living God" was biblically controlled.
The terms used by Peter are also used by other people. However, for a great many of them, these terms have an entirely different meaning which is not biblically but satanically controlled. Scripture reveals to us that Satan is crafty and cunning; we are warned to be cautious of his wiles. Chief among his deceitful ploys is always the usurping of Christian terminology for the theology of hell. When people use the name "Christ," we will not be able to lazily assume that they are referring to the same Christ we confess, the Christ whose name we bear as Christians.
In the second century A.D., the Church faced a struggle to the death with the heresy known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a wide-spread movement throughout the ancient world. To define it may well prove impossible. It existed prior to Christianity and contained elements from a bewildering variety of sources, such as the philosophy of Plato, the religion of Persia, heterodox Judaism, Egyptian myths, astrology and a variety of local mythologies. If you want to know more about the details of this heresy, a Bible dictionary such as the New Bible Dictionary or the International Standard Bible Dictionary will provide a good start and also references for further reading.
The word "Gnosticism" contains the Creek word gnwsis (gnosis) which means "knowledge." If we look at the unifying ideas of the complex movement called Gnosticism, we find that each part of it stressed a secret knowledge necessary for salvation. While this secret knowledge was often conveyed in the form of different myths and stories, the basic content was the same. What knowledge is necessary for salvation? The Gnostic answer is that all people need to come to the awareness of their own divine nature. Gnosticism teaches that in each human being there is a spark of original divinity. Somehow, this divine kernel has been caught up in the evil prison of the flesh. Salvation involves coming to the awareness of your true divinity and escaping the world of matter. People who have been enlightened as to their true divinity will be united with God upon death. God, however, is not defined by Gnostics in personal terms. God becomes simply the impersonal, unifying principle of the universe. To be united with God means to become one with the universe. To be united with God means to lose your individuality in the great, unnamable "All."
The Gnostics Adopt Christ
In a variety of forms, the Gnostic religion predates Christianity. It was a part of the confusing religion scene of the first and second centuries. Our interest lies in the Gnostic absorption of Christian terms and ideas. Because this false religion was inherently syncretistic, it had no difficulty in taking over certain Christian ideas and terms. Specifically, Gnosticism could put to good use the concept of "Christ." Pre-Christian Gnosticism often included the idea of a divine Saviour. The function of such a saviour was to bring revelation to the chosen ones.
What was the content of the revelation brought by a Gnostic saviour? Invariably, it involved the news that man is divine. The Gnostic messenger of salvation had to wake up the sleepers from their slumber. His task was to make people aware of who they really were. According to Gnostic teaching, most people have forgotten their true origin and destiny. The true, divine self remains anaesthetized until awakened by the divine messenger. Through the messenger, the divine spark in the hearer is fanned into life.
You can already see where this is leading. The Gnostics could not resist the temptation to adopt Christ as one of their own. In their writings, Christ is transformed into a messenger who proclaims the essential divinity of man. In Gnostic writings, Christ is not a Saviour who dies for sin to redeem the lost, but is rather a Holy Man who comes to enlighten the world. According to the Gnostics, Christ is not the only Saviour. Instead, he becomes one of many heavenly messengers who all bring the same gospel of human divinity.
In Gnostic thought, then, Christ is no longer the one and only Son of God. Instead, the name "Christ" becomes a symbol for a state of consciousness. People are not saved by faith in the person and work of Christ. Instead, the goal is that by listening to the teaching of Christ, they will themselves become "Christs," or attain a "Christ-consciousness." In the Gnostic Gospels, Christ does not appear as the one who dies for sin, but only as an example for all to follow on the road to becoming divine.
The church fathers of the second century raged against the Gnostic philosophy. They recognized it as a terrible threat to the Gospel. Around the year 150, the tide began to turn against Gnostic ideas and eventually they lost their formerly powerful influence. Tertullian and Iranaeus were two giants who led the struggle against heresy. They understood that the Gnostic Gospel left no room for the doctrine of the atonement. It is remarkable that while the Gospels of the Christian canon are devoted in large measure to the passion narratives, the Gnostic Gospels pay no attention at all to Christ's suffering. Salvation for the Gnostic did not mean deliverance from sin, but only self-discovery of one's own divinity. The Gnostic Christ could not command worship and adoration. He is not the unique, virgin-born Saviour who by His one sacrifice made redemption a reality for God's elect.
Twentieth Century Gnosticism
While the Gnostic heresy was basically defeated by the fifth century, it has always remained as a substratum in Christian countries. Throughout the ages, there have been those who talked and wrote of Christ as a mystical teacher instead of as the Lamb of God who died for sinners. In the 19th and twentieth centuries, however, there has been an explosive revival of ancient gnostic ideas. Especially in the last decade, a great deal of interest has been aroused in alternative views of Christ. Nineteenth-century theosophical ideas have percolated into mainstream culture via the writings of people like Benjamin Creme (The Reappearance of the Christ and the Masters of Wisdom. North Hollywood, Calif.: Tara Center, 1980), Elizabeth Clare Prophet (The Lost Years of Jesus. Livingston, Mont.: Summit University Press, 1987), David Spangler (Reflections on the Christ. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn, 1981) and George Trevelyan (A Vision of the Aquarian Age: The Emerging Spiritual World View. Walpole, N.H.: Stillpoint, 1984.)
While these authors differ on details, the basic outline is consistent. Jesus Christ, they teach, is not the one who died for sins in order to make atonement with God. Instead, Christ manifested himself as one who had a highly evolved God-consciousness. Christ is an example of a truly self-realized man, a human being who was truly aware of his own divinity. He came to this world as an emissary to lead us into the knowledge of our own divinity. These authors exhort Christians to get Christ off the pedestal on which we have placed Him. We are called to salute Him as an example of what we could become.
Basically, then, New Age thought reduces the Lord Jesus Christ to a way-shower. He is the best example we have in western civilization of somebody who is attuned to the divine. He is not the only Saviour, but merely the best available prototype for what we can all become. Christ provides a pattern which we ought to emulate. For the New Age adherent, salvation means the realization that the self is divine. While orthodox Christianity confesses the consubstantiality of the Son of God with the Father, New Age thinking confesses the consubstantiality of the self with God. This means that people are of the same essence as God. Between God and people, there is no boundary. We are one and the same.
Clearly, this New Age version of Christ and of salvation can have no patience with orthodox views about sin.
Christians see sin as rebellion against the Creator. Sin is ethical. It means violation of the law of God. Sin is the pride and arrogance of the creature before the face of the Maker. To be saved means to repent of this sin, to humble oneself before God and to find forgiveness in the sacrifice of Christ.
For the New Ager, however, sin is basically equated with ignorance. Of ignorance, of course, people need not repent. The antidote to ignorance is not repentance and humility, but enlightenment. You need to get the gnosis. Therefore, words like sin, guilt, repentance and forgiveness are exceedingly unpopular in New Age writings. Salvation comes through the deeply personal intuition that you are divine. To be saved does not mean to become something spiritually and ethically new, but simply to become aware of what you already are.
Imitators of Christ?
We must utterly reject the New Age Christ. Christ our Saviour is not merely a way-shower. Instead, He is the way-maker. By the sacrifice of His flesh, He has made a new and living way for us to God (Hebrews. 10:19). He does not only point to the way; no, He is the Way, the truth and the life (John 14:9). It is by faith in His atoning sacrifice that we find peace with God. In finding peace with God, we remain what we are, namely creatures. The pursuit of deity is the age-old delusion spawned by the powers of darkness.
Does Christ bring knowledge? Does He reveal secrets? Yes, but these are the secrets of God's Kingdom, the secrets of redemption through His own self-sacrifice. Yes, Christ does bring enlightenment, but according to Scripture the mystery He reveals is that of God's grace and truth revealed finally and sufficiently in Himself. Christ never refers to Himself as a mere way-shower, but as the final and supreme revelation of the grace and truth of God. In Him, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily and nowhere else. He does not refer to Himself as merely an example, but as the object of faith, love and obedience.
Is Christ in any way a prototype for us? Yes He is, but not as described in the demonically-inspired dreams of the New Agers. We do not follow Christ in the way of developing our own Christ-consciousness. Romans 8:29 reveals that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son. Christ remains always the unique, eternal Son of God. However, we who believe may become sons and daughters of God by adoption. As adopted children, we are to be conformed to the image of the firstborn, glorious Son of God.
Primarily, this reference of Romans 8:29 has an ethical implication. Conformity to the image of the beloved Son of God means to be holy and righteous as He is holy and righteous. In Lord's Day 32, we confess that "Christ, having redeemed us by His blood also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image." How do we show the image of Christ? The answer is by doing good works, works of obedience just as were done by Christ.
Is Christ then a prototype? Yes, He is the prototype of a new humanity, the Church of God. He is the first of many righteous and holy people who will dwell in the new creation. In this sense, we may reverently say that what Christ is, we in principle are and will soon become in fullness (compare also Philippians 3:21 and 1 John 3:2).
Does this mean that we take Christ from His pedestal and regard Him as just one of the crowd? No, it would be blasphemy to do so. He remains always the unique Saviour, the only-begotten of the Father. We are like Him, but not identical to Him. As Church, we worship and adore Christ for the saving work He has done for us.
Let's watch out for false Christs in the books of the New Age philosophy. He who says "Christ, Christ," is not necessarily a Christian. Test the spirits, to see whether they are of God or of Satan.