Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Shedding light of the New Age


Have I ever read a horoscope? Yes, many years ago. Do I still read it? No. Why? The Holy Spirit convinced me both of the lie and the danger of leaving even a simple window open to evil.

Have I ever been to a Psychic Fair or had my Tarot cards read? No. Why? Because I believe that my answers to life’s problems can come only from God and discerning between good and evil.

Many young people flock to New Age events to fill the gap of missing family. Women alone, frightened and eager for guidance, are greeted head-on by the deceivingly friendly face of the New Age…. and while we see that it’s difficult to define New Age, it seems that its most basic appeal is that anything goes.

New Age Religion is not a religion at all, but a vast mixing of numerous religious and philosophical ideas. This has been going on since the time of Alexander the Great, but was snuffed out under Christianity and its enforced dogma starting around 325AD. Alexander’s vast empire opened the door for Eastern religion and mysticism to move West, while Greek philosophy and reason move East. Today, the same process continues, but on a global scale in particular with the internet.

It has some similarities to ancient Gnosticism adopting both its methods and individual nature. Most often rejecting reason and science, New Age Religion more than anything is emotional, filling in a void left by a secular culture and discontent with traditional religious beliefs.

The New Age Movement is in a class by itself. Unlike most formal religions, it has no holy text, central organisation, membership, formal clergy, geographic centre, creed, dogma etc. It is a free-flowing spiritual movement, a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices.

The New Age is a movement of individuals; most graft some new age beliefs onto their regular religious affiliation.

Recent surveys in America have shown that many Americans hold at least some new age beliefs:

8% believe in astrology as a method of foretelling the future

7% believe that crystals are a source of healing or energising power

9% believe that Tarot cards are a reliable base for life decisions

About 1 in 4 believe in a non-traditional concept of the nature of God which are often associated with New Age thinking:

11% believe that God is “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach”

8% define God as “the total realisation of personal human potential”

3% believe that each person is God

This may seem a lot of statistics, but the conclusion of a study carried out shows that New Agers represent a steady 20% of the population of the USA, and are constantly the largest religious group.

New Age teachings became popular during the 1970’s as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity and the failure of secular humanism to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future.

Its roots are traceable to many sources – Astrology, Channelling, Hinduism, Spiritualism, Wicca etc., and it continues to expand into the 21st century, promoted by the social backlash against logic and science.

A number of fundamental beliefs are held by many New Age followers; individuals are encouraged to shop around for the beliefs and practices that they feel most comfortable with:

Many practices are common amongst New Agers, but a typical practitioner is active in only a few areas:

Channelling – similar to mediums trying to make contact with the spirits of the dead.

Crystals – thought by New Agers to possess healing energy.

Meditating – a process of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking, often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra or focussing on an object.

New Age Music – a gentle, melodic, inspirational music form involving the human voice, harp, lute, flute, panpipes etc. Used as an aid in healing, massage therapy and general relaxation.

Divination – the use of various techniques to foretell the future, including I Ching, Runes, Tarot cards, Astrology. The belief is that the orientation of the planets at the time of one’s birth and the location of that birth predicts the individual’s personality and their future.

Holisitic Health – this is a collection of healing techniques which have diverged from the traditional medical model. It attempts to cure disorders in body, mind and spirit and to promote wholeness and balance in the individual. Examples are acupuncture, crystal healing, homeopathy, iridology, massage, various meditation methods, psychic healing, reflexology etc. Some of these practices are somewhat suspect in their nature, and what should always be weighed by the Christian is whether the actual practitioner is a Christian and where they acknowledge the healing power to come from – him/her self or God.

I will attempt to enlarge on one area that concerns me. As I’ve just explained, there are many aspects of New Age practice, and some may be seen as okay, some maybe a little iffy, but some should be avoided at all costs by true followers of Christ.

Recently, I was quite disturbed to hear that there was to be a Psychic Fair held at the Long Horn pub over the road. These fairs occur in every town and have a strong following by people looking for guidance for the future whether it be through the reading of Tarot cards, trying to connect with the dead through a medium or psychic or even receiving ‘faith healing’ Many of these folks are searching for something but don’t know what it is, but they do know that if somebody can predict where life is taking them or contact can be made with dead relatives then all will be well.

The thing is, - do they realise in tapping into these sources they are in fact dabbling in the occult? My guess is that many don’t and they are simply misguided.

The Bible specifically teaches that dealing with mediums, astrologers etc is wrong – astrology can become a form of idolatry. A person who looks to the stars for direction and keys to the future idolises them as superior beings in control of their destiny.

In our OT reading from 1 Samuel, Saul had consulted a medium, having originally banished them from the land. Mediums and spiritists, according to the law, were to be put to death and anyone who consulted them cut off from his people. As Saul was frightened by the size of the Philistine army who were gathering to fight against Israel, he urgently needed military advice. He asked the Lord but when no answer came he disguised himself and took two men with him under the cover of night to Endor, where he asked the medium to bring up the spirit of Samuel, who had already died. At first, the woman was afraid to bring up the spirit of Samuel, but she reluctantly did so, - when she saw Samuel she cried out. It would seem that what she saw was beyond her normal experience, something beyond her control.. However, Saul didn’t see what the woman saw and kept asking her “What do you see . . . what does he look like? When she said that she saw an old man wearing a robe, then Saul KNEW that it was Samuel, and bowed to the ground. Saul and the two men were fearful and weak with hunger, so after the woman had fed them, they left that same night.

We aren’t told how Saul knew that it was Samuel, but something very real was happening to Saul and to this medium. Throughout history people have had many kinds of spiritual experiences and encounters and are still having them today. Some of these experiences come directly from God, while others come from evil spirits. Some can even be in people’s minds. What was happening here was under God’s control.

We must consider where New Age interest in or worship of astrology can lead if we follow it to its logical conclusion.

In a book titled Horoscopes and the Christian, Robert E. Morey says, ”Astrology would

ultimately make us the slaves of the astrologers. They would control our marriages, careers, even war. Modern medicine and psychology would be destroyed. Astrologers would tell us when and where to operate, and would blame all mental illness on the stars, particularly the moon. Business would collapse because workers would stay at home whenever the astrologers predicted a bad day. Astrologers would even tell us when to make love with our mate. Famine and starvation would spread as farmers waited for the astrologers to tell them if and when to plant.”

Morey goes on to say “Astrology is an all-consuming world view which can potentially dictate every aspect of our daily lives. Astrology would ultimately bring about the destruction of reason, hope, meaning, significance and love”

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus explains the parable of the weeds. The young weeds and the young blades of wheat look the same and can’t be distinguished until they are grown and ready for harvest. The weeds (unbelievers) and wheat, (believers) must live side by side in the world. God allows unbelievers to remain for a while, just as a farmer allows weeds to remain in his field so that the surrounding wheat won’t be uprooted with them. And as we know, at the harvest, the weeds will be thrown away.

Jesus emphasises to his disciples that the good seed represents the people of the kingdom, sown by the Son of Man in the field of the world. But, - in this world also exist people who belong to the evil one, sown by him into this world. At the end of the world, the angels would come and the harvest would begin. At this harvest God will separate his people from Satan’s people, and as the harvesters collect the weeds into bundles to be destroyed, so Satan’s works and his people will face God at the final judgement.

Those who say that they don’t care what happens to them when they die don’t realise what they are saying. God will punish them for living in selfishness and indifference to him, and Jesus, who has already identified himself as the Son of Man revealed that he will inaugurate the end of the age and the final judgement. Reflecting words from Daniel 12:3, Jesus described the final glory of the godly. Those who receive God’s favour stand in bright contrast to those who receive his judgement.

Heaven will be a glorious place for those that are true to him.I have attempted to unpack a little about the New Age, but really, this is

just the tip of the iceberg. I’d like next time to look at New Age beliefs, therapies, medicine and those caught up in New Age practices. It’s a minefield and we could have a whole sermon series just on the New Age, but for now my prayer is that we will all stay close to Jesus and not be led astray by the cunning tactics of the evil one.

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