How is it that New Age Spirituality has found its way into the Evangelical church? There is a long and winding path that has been followed to get to where we find ourselves. The answer begins early in the history of the Church, as very quickly she left her first love (Rev. 2:4). Samuel Andrews described the progression poignantly,
As her [the Church] strength was in union with Him, so her weakness was in disunion. Ceasing to be one with Him in the unity of love, her members soon ceased to be one in the same unity. With the loss of love came disobedience, and the mystery of lawlessness. She failed to attain to the full truth, and to the unity of the faith, and lost more and more the desire for His return. This estrangement from the Head, thus early begun, reaches its full measure in the last days, when as He declared, “lawlessness shall abound and the love of the many shall wax cold.”(Matt. xxiv, 12, R.V.) ¹
The loss of first love, unity of love among believers, and the resulting disobedience may be seen early in the life of the Church. In fact, the Apostle Paul warned the elders of Ephesus that false teachers would soon begin to prey upon the Church of Ephesus; some of them even coming from the elders themselves (Acts 20:30). His companions Hymenaeus and Alexander rejected the faith to the point that Paul handed them over to Satan” (1 Tim. 1:18-20). Later, Jude warned his readers that “certain persons have crept in unnoticed, … who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4) Soon after in the life of the infant Church the pendulum of belief and practice began to swing from cold, lifeless formalism to experience driven forms of Christian expression.
The loss of her first love is easily seen in the years following Emporer Constantine legalized the Christian religion, and it’s declaration as the official religion of his kingdom in A.D. 380-81. The removal of the threat of persecution allowed the Church to become settled in her culture, and she began to lose her proper focus, which both Paul and Peter had taught.
Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Col.3:1-2)
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)
Instead, the Church became fixated on gaining earthly acceptance and power. In doing so, she became so earthly minded that she was of little earthly good.
As the Church evolved into its Roman Catholic version, one can see that it turned from the pristine doctrine of the Apostles, which set the stage for various forms of religious practices that rejected the ultimate authority of Scripture. Instead, the leaders chose to add the authority of Popes, the Church’s official interpretation of Scripture, and the pronouncements of church councils to its idea of ultimate authority. Regardless of intent, these additions overshadowed the authority of Scripture. This, along with the Church’s refusal to allow the Bible into the hands of anyone outside of Church hierarchy, bred biblical illiteracy within the general public along with various aberrant practices by devout members of the Church. The secret practices of the Christian mystics is one of the most significant in understanding where the Church of the twenty-first century finds itself today.
Mysticism arose in part as a response to the Roman Catholic Church’s Scholasticism, which was the attempt of the monastic schools to use Aristotelian logic to understand, and defend Scripture. This practice produced what was perceived to be a cold, dead formalism. In contrast the Medieval mystics desired “to secure purity of heart and life through union of the soul with God.”² Earle Cairns further described the purpose of the mystic, stating that their “main objective…is immediate apprehension of God in an extra-rational way as the mystic waits before Him in a passive, receptive mood.”³ As Cairns explained, “The recurrence of mysticism in eras when the church lapses into formalism testifies to the desire of the human heart to have direct contact with God in the act of worship instead of passively participating in the coldly formal acts of worship performed by the clergyman.”4 One of the most prominent of the early mystics was Meister Eckhart, a German Dominican whose name is often mentioned in discussions of today’s post-modern Evangelicalism. His views of God were so close to the Eastern philosophy that after his death he was condemned as a pantheist .
Later, the Counter-Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries was the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the Reformation, and produced the mystical beliefs and practices that are most common today. Two of the prominent figures of the time, Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, were closely aligned. The two were reformers of the Carmelite order, and had great impact on the Catholic revival.
Both Teresa of Avila and St. John promoted forms of mystical, contemplative prayer, and rigorous self-denial, or asceticism, in an attempt to reach union with the Divine. Teresa wrote many books concerning her view of the spiritual life of Christians, her best known of which is The Interior Castle (1577), which was supposedly “revealed” to her.5 In it, the way of mystical union with God through various stages of “prayer” is revealed. These form a foundation for contemplative prayer in her teaching on the contemplative life.
In concert with Teresa’s teaching, St. John of the Cross describes the path to union with God as passing through dark nights (meaning periods of time rather than literal nights) of purification from earthly desires (purgation), followed by illumination, and eventual union with the Divine.
If this union with the Divine sounds familiar it should. It is very similar, if not identical to the Hindu idea of a person’s union with the ultimate reality, or Brahman. Although a direct link to Hinduism is not found here, the underlying mystical beliefs are nearly identical and should cause red flag warnings to the discerning Christian. Instead, many of today’s leading “evangelicals” teach that these types of practices are necessary for the spiritual development of believers in the Body of Christ.
In our next post we will continue to discuss how the vacuum came to be that brought in the New Age beliefs.
(1) Samuel J. Andrews, Christianity and Anti-Christianity In Their Final Conflict, Reprint ed. (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, no date given, original ed. 1898), 86.
(2) Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 6 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 237.
(3) Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. Revised, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 242.
(5) http//:www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/t/teresa_of_avila_st.html accessed 11/5/2016.