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April 28, 2015

a different spirit altogether

After a few sunny spring days, Europe is back to its grey rain today. I'm eating a soft, salty brezel and warming my fingers around a mug of tea. Our flat is chilly and I'm trying to set my mind to my work. I'm distracted, however, when I look out at the neighbours' rooftop porch, where they spend most every sunny evening. For the first time, I notice a small statue tucked amongst their deck decor: a sleek, serene Buddha. The cool drizzle falls on Buddha, and I think, Europe is grey in more ways than one.

My thoughts turn to an incident a few weeks ago, when I was buying discounted tea lights at a gift store. A shopper (not my neighbour) approached the cashier with a huge, heavy Buddha in her arms. She heaved him onto the countertop, where the cashier proceed to wrap this master of enlightenment in enough padding that he not suffer damage on the way to his new home. As I watched the lady clinging to this expensive black stone god, I couldn't help but notice the irony of her situation. Here she stood, in a land freed by Luther's Reformation, using her hard-won freedom to choose...the bondage of Buddha. Here she stood, with her back to one of the biggest chruches in our city, embracing an Eastern elixir for her Western want.

And I thoughtbut isn't that the West today? Freed by the Scriptures, only to go back to the ideas that enslaved us prior? (The very terms we use to talk about Western history allude to this misunderstanding of history—the "Dark Ages" had more Light than secular historians would have us think, and "The Enlightenment" was not as bright as it sounds.) Back turned to the Truth the Word had to offer, the West is flaunting its freedom to choose falsehood.

After my first visit to the East, I saw buzzwords used in the West, like guru and yoga, differently. After living in the East, now I see a pooja invitation for what it really is. I see the heart of the West enamored with ideas pouring from the East. Like Eve, seeking something appealing to her body, her eyes, her mind, trusting her feelings more than His Word. Like Eve, swallowing the snake god's teachings undiscerningly. Like Eve, wed to husbands who stand idly by with no wisdom or insight to correct their gullible wives when they embrace Buddha and bring him onto their porches and into their homes. 
South Asian posters of various gods
Of course, the irony is, that in the East there is also an infatuation with the West. It can be as mild as an interest in burgers or big brands, or as dangerous as a fascination with the Western gods of order, peace, health and prosperity. The West we know today was built on principles like honest pay for honest work, the equality of all men and women in God's eyes, and other Truths  which have led to the achievements of the "developed world". The West draws many Easterners as well, though perhaps for different reasons.

The West is full of the East, now,  and the East full of the West. Times are changing and our paradigms are merging. Our worldviews are inevitably meshing, as our children are raised with cultural pluralism, in its best and worst forms. At its best, this multiculturalism teaches our children firsthand that all were truly created from one blood and really have only one need. But at its worst, our children are taught lies and a dangerous tolerance, that is, the tolerance of false ideas in the name of unity.

I recently discovered Caryl Matrisciana, who was raised as a Catholic Britisher in India, and as a young adult became almost accidentally entwined in Eastern mysticism through hippie music and culture in England in the sixties. After coming into a living relationship with Chr!st in her twenties, she made it her life's work to warn the chruch about New Age ideas, about how dangerous Eastern philosophies were creeping into the West under new names, something she sees so clearly because of her exposure both to East and West.

Caryl speaks of "New Age" teaching, but have you noticed that the very term "New Age" is rarely heard anymore? The pluralism and mysticism of Eastern thinking has become so much a part of Western thinking that most don't even recognize it for what it is. No longer are those lies only embraced by people "with their back to the chruch", but also by those inside the chruch. For example, recently I came across a book that at first appearance seemed Chr!stian, with Scripture quotes throughout. But upon closer inspection, I noted that the author was teaching women to find strength in their inner goddesses and be their own light...concepts completely foreign to the Word. This author's syncretism was obvious, but in many cases, it is harder to spot. Today, Caryl's work is to warn false thinking is now in the chruch: in their books, taught at their workshops, and infiltrating their pulpits. Over and over, she emphasizes that followers of the Way, the Truth, the Life must know their Book (so unique from any writings of other so-called sages) and their God lest they be deceived by that old serpent, who is impartial, deceiving East and West both. 

A depiction of a H!ndu deity
I have often heard that post-moderns think of God as an impersonal force, but I had an "aha moment" while listening to an interview with Caryl, when she said that the B!blical God is relational, while the typical Eastern view of god is more mystical. God is relational and has created a world with human relationships, such as father-child, friend-friend, or employer-employee, that help us to understand how to relate to Him. When a person learns that the true God is to him like a father, a friend or a master, he instantly has a general understanding of the relationship he is to have with God. 

When people begin to use mystical, non-relational practices in their worship, this should warn us about the extra-B!blical source of their ideas. (Caryl defines mysticism as "not communicating... getting into a euphoric feeling" and disconnecting from the world around you). For example, often empty, repetitive chanting is used in religious worship, but to which father, friend or boss would you ever speak in repetitive chants? Did Adam and Eve simply repeat His name and burn candles around Him when He came to visit in the garden, or did they have real conversations, a real exchange of important information, a real personal relationship with Him? Running our theology (which should be firmly grounded particularly in the doctrinal passages of God's Word) through the historical passages offers us a system of checks and balances, to see if our theological constructs are still fitting the big story of the Scripture. The doctrinal passages teach us that God wants a relationship with mankind, and the narratives show us what it looks like when God relates to humans.

Keeping close to His Word keeps us from turning Him into a mystical God, an impersonal force that encourages us to live by our own power and according to our fluctuating emotions. In Proverbs 1:23 God says,
"I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you."
Charles Clough explains that the poetic Hebrew parallelism in this verse indicates that the pouring out of God's spirit is not a mystical experience, because it involves the transfer of words; it is communication. The true God is mysterious, in that we cannot fully comprehend Him, but He is not mystical in an Eastern sense. The chruch is full of people speaking of experiences and emotion today, but the true outpouring out of His Spirit will never take place in a way that does not align with the Word He has already given us. His Word is the only reliable measuring stick by which to gauge our experiences and impulses. We must know the Word, personally, lest in our desire for experiences, we welcome a different spirit altogether. 

South Asian snake charmer
Today, the West looks to the East, seeking enlightenment through mystical experiences which are as old as the Snake himself. The East looks to the West, seeking a better life but finds, too often, the same soul bondage repackaged.  

As East and West cast their eyes toward each other, may they see the One who stands on Israeli soil,
at the crossroads of civilization,
at the place where East and West meet.

The One who suffered the snake bite, but rose victorious over it.
The One who ascended and promised to return one day and reign physically, visibly, personally from Jer'usalem, forever crushing the serpent's head. He is the Truth-telling Spirit. He is the Living Word. May there be many who catch a glimpse of Him, and "come from the east and the west...and sit down in the kingdom of God."

"But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Chr!st. For if one comes and preaches another J'esus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different g0spel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully...."
 —Paul to the Corinthians
"When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.'"
 —Luke, recording Paul's experience in Athens 

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
 —J'esus, as recorded by Matthew

...“Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.... O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”
 —J'esus, as recorded by Luke

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say thanks for stopping by my blog recently! You're right, we don't seem to hear the term "New Age" these days, but its tenets are everywhere. It's sad that its accepted as mainstream now.