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Parallels Between Charismatic and New Age Movements
By Gary F. Zeolla
This discussion is continued from Parallels Between Charismatic and New Age Movements Part One.
Baptism with the Spirit
One topic we need to touch on here is the charismatic doctrine of the baptism with the Spirit. At Dayspring, this was taught to be, "a subsequent experience to salvation." And, "The initial evidence of this experience is speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives ability" (Dayspring, p. 1).
Biblically, there are several problems here. The Bible teaches that a person receives the Spirit the moment he is converted. Moreover, if someone has not received the Spirit, he is not a Christian (see Rom. 8:9; Eph. 1:13 and John 3:6). Charismatics try to circumvent these points by making a distinction between having, receiving, being filled and being baptized with the Spirit. But the Bible uses the terms interchangeably (Acts 2;4; 10:47; 11:16).
Second, nowhere does Scripture teach that tongues is the evidence of being baptized with the Spirit. In fact, Paul makes it clear that not all believers speak in tongues (1Cor 12:30). Also, if as mentioned previously, people of various non-Christian faiths speak in tongues, how can it be a sign of Holy Spirit baptism?
This topic is important. If a believer who doesn't speak in tongues accepts this teaching, he's going to start seeking an experience that has no Scriptural basis. This can lead to demonic influence or psychological delusion. Remember the story I quoted from Butler about what happened to the man who was seeking the "baptism"?
The point is, a person should be seeking God, not an experience. In following the Lord, spiritual experiences may be encountered, but this shouldn't be the focus. Also, the experience(s) need to be judged by Scripture to test their reality.
Positive Thinking/ Confession
Another verse I heard continually taken out of context at Dayspring was Proverbs 23:7, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."
This verse leads to the next parallel between the two movements: positive thinking/ confession. "Healing comes as a direct result of perceiving ourselves as whole." This statement could easily have been made by someone at my old church in reference to Proverbs 23:7. The problem is, However, that this quote comes from The Aquarian Conspiracy by New Ager Marylin Ferguson (p. 150).
Also, in context, this verse from Proverbs is not teaching the power of the mind. Proverbs 23:6-8 is a warning to not be deceived by a greedy man who is appearing to be generous. He is only trying to win you over so he can use you.
In any case, positive confession was one of the biggest problems I had with Dayspring. It was usually used in reference to healing. If someone was sick, he was told to tell people he was well. This was because there was supposedly power in the words that would cause God to respond.
However, as Douglas Miller states, "God will not be controlled. Any attempt to direct or manipulate God implies rebellious idolatry" (cited by Gordon Lewis in Montgomery, p. 355). This practice is also lying, which is something God hates (see Prov. 6:17).
This idea stems from a wrong concept of God. As Butler asks, "Is the god whom we can manipulate in this way the God of the Bible? (Butler, p. 113). I say no.
At the healing session I mentioned earlier, the evangelist prayed after he called the people forward, "Lord, I demand that you heal these people."
It was the events of this night that were the last straw in causing me to leave the church. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing. If God must jump when we speak, then we must be at least equal to Him. A charismatic would never say this, but it's the logical conclusion from these practices.
This attitude comes dangerously close to the New Age concept of God. In the mini-series, Out on a Limb, Shirley MacLaine stood on the beach of the Pacific Ocean chanting "I am God, I am God, I am God" (Ankerberg, p. 10). Butler implores, "Let us never lose a sense of awe as we come before a holy God" (p. 67). This warning needs to be heeded by adherents to both movements.
Attitude Toward Sin
Another indication of their faulty viewpoint of God in both movements is their attitude toward sin. Repentance is a part of Dayspring's statement of faith in reference to salvation. (p. 3). However, in practice, this was rarely preached, or when it was it was done in a light-hearted manner. The emphasis in evangelism was always the experience one could have by believing in Christ.
This emphasis was usually tied in with what Jesus could do for you: be healed, be made happy, etc. Which relates back to the positive thinking/confession beliefs. Problem is, God never promised that by becoming a Christian a person would have a carefree, healthy, happy life. In fact, the apostle's experiences were the exact opposite (see 1Cor 4:8-14).
This parallels the New Age "gospel." Sin is looked on as being an ignorance of one's divinity. (Ankerberg, p. 17). The reason to follow "the path" is usually given in terms of all the good things it will bring.
I was very disturbed when I read William James' book, The Varieties of Religious Experiences. It was disturbing that James, an atheist, could see that this health and wealth "gospel" was not what Christianity had traditionally taught.
In the chapter, "The Religion of Healthy Mindedness", James shows how the concept had its roots in the mind-cure cults of the turn of the century. On page 94, he states, "Although the disciples of the mind-cure often use Christian terminology, one sees from such quotations how widely their notion of the fall of man diverges from that of ordinary Christianity."
Throughout, as quotes from the leaders of the movement show, pantheistic terms appear: "recognize your own divinity", "Deific Breath" (p. 95), "your divine self" (p. 96), "There is nothing but God." (p. 97), "the Divinity of man's true inner self" (p. 113). These are placed beside positive thinking/confession phrases: "as a man thinketh so is he" (p. 97), [sound familiar?] "Thoughts are things"(p.99), "God is well and so are you" (p. 100).
The point is, the concept originated not in Christian circles but in the occult. Christians simply added Christian terms and started teaching it in the church. "When it spoke of the 'Christ-life' within, it meant precisely what the mind-cures meant by the spiritual nature, although they might have called it the 'Divine Energy' or the 'Infinite Life" (Frank, p. 145).
The above is not to say that anything without Christian roots is necessarily wrong. However, in this case, it is difficult to divorce the practice from the faulty world-view underlying it.
Faulty Church History
Both movements are severely lacking a knowledge of church history is. Both ascribe to some kind of restoration belief. New Agers teach, "The early church taught reincarnation until the sixth century when it was suppressed at a church council. (Grudel, p. 8).
An in-depth refutation of this claim would require an article in itself. Suffice it to say here, that even a cursory reading of the writings of the Church Fathers would show that they believe in resurrection, not reincarnation (see The Nature of Resurrection).
Similarly, charismatics believe the gifts were suppressed by the early Church. They further claim the gifts did not re-appear till the Azuzu Street "Revivals" of the early 1900s.
However, there was no suppression of the gifts. They just gradually lost importance after apostolic times. Also, there have been isolated groups throughout Church history that have manifested the charismata. However, from the Montanists of the second century to the Mormons of the nineteenth century, many have been heretical or, at least, at the "fringe" of the Christian faith (Butler, pp. 23-68).
The purpose of the sign gifts was to authenticate the message of the apostles (Heb. 2:4; 2Cor 12:12). As such, it is not surprising they lost importance when the apostles died. Whether the gifts are for today is not the issue, the real problem is the excessive importance placed on them by charismatics.
The above points caused me to start questioning the validity of the charismata in my former church. These facts were also instrumental in leading C.S. Butler and Neil Babcox to re-examine their beliefs. Their stories are recorded in their books listed in the bibliography.
Both movements are very interested in eschatology (end-times prophecy). As the name implies, the New Agers think they are going to usher in a "New Age" for society. Charismatics and all Christians are also looking for a new age. However, our new age will be brought about by the Second Coming of Christ. It will not come about by attaining to "Omega" -- the unification of conscience and culture, as Douglas Groothius describes the New Age belief (Groothius, p. 118).
New Age goals are:
1. A one-world government.
2. A one-world economic system.
3. A one-world culture including a one-world religion.
4. A god-like world ruler who will help to implement these changes (Ankerberg, p. 25)
This all sounds dangerously close to what some Christians believe is described in Revelation 13.
Now where do the charismatics fit into this scenario? First of all, charismatic groups throughout the ages have attempted to predict the exact time of the parousia. This practice occurs despite Jesus' clear statements not to do so (Matt. 24:37; Acts 1:7).
This kind of attempted prediction is what exposed the Montanist prophets to be false. Their prediction of the Second coming did not come to pass (D. J. Wright, in Elwell, p. 732). When prophecies like these fail it can lead to great disappointment (See Is the End Near? - Part One).
Add these practices to the charismatics emphasis on miracles and it could lead disappointed church members right into the anti-Christs arms. The Bible warns the anti-Christ is coming with, "counterfeit miracles, sign and wonders." (2Thes 2:9). I began to feel that charismatics could be the first ones deceived.
Transcending Traditional Belief Boundaries
Both movements are already transcending traditional belief boundaries. As Schaeffer states, "Instead of accepting a person on the basis of what he believes which has always been the Christian way, it's 'do you have these external manifestations?'" (Schaeffer, p. 391)
This statement could apply to New Agers as well. Schaeffer goes on to say, "An example of the down-playing of content is that some are now lamenting the Reformation" (p. 391).
Butler reiterates the same idea, "There are charismatics who have gone so far as to say that they believe that the reformation was a dreadful mistake" (p. 103). This attitude is because, "The charismatic renewal has now become widely established in the Roman Catholic Church" (Butler. p. 105).
The pope would love to see all the "separated brethren" back under his authority. Pope John XIII stated, "We cherish the hope of your return..." (Knolls, p. 74).
The problem is, this unity would be on the basis of experience, not a reconciliation of beliefs. It could only be realized by an extreme overemphasis on experience and anti-intellectualism of these movements.
Francis Schaeffer sums up the problem very well:
We must, of course, be careful here, because we are not saying that there shouldn't be any experience or emotion. There is and should be. But neither experience nor emotion is the basis for our faith. The basis is that certain things are true. the whole man, including the intellect, is to act upon the fact that certain things are true. That, of course, will lead to an experience (Schaeffer; p. 391).
What should be the evangelical response to these movements? This question is especially important since many in these movements have some sort of traditional Christian background. As Ankerberg states, "The church needs to have a higher degree of commitment to Christ as Lord in every area of life, to studying and living the Bible's teachings, and to learning apologetics" (p. 22). We need to give a stronger emphasis to teaching theology, church history, and apologetics in our churches.
On the other hand, we should recognize the experiential side to Christianity. Nothing is worse than a dead intellectualism. We need to acknowledge the importance of the Holy Spirit's work in our prayers, worship and evangelism.
However, learning or offering an experience must never become the focus of our activities. The focus needs to stay on God and people's need for a Savior (Rom 3:23).
Lastly, both of these movements grow out of a faulty viewpoint of God. Shirley MacLaine could never shout "I am God" and the charismatic would never try to manipulate God via positive confession if they truly understood the holiness and majesty of God.
R. C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God, states, "I was a Unitarian of sorts, a Unitarian of the second person of the trinity. I knew who Jesus was, but the Father was shrouded in mystery." (p 14).
There is too much of the "You've got a friend in Jesus" mentality going around. We must never forget that God, "...is the blessed, and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen" (1Tim 6:15-16).
follow-ups to this two-part article,
see Parallels Article - "Hate Mail?"
and Parallels Article: Comments.
Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, The Facts on the New Age Movement. Chattanooga, TN: The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Asso., 1988.
Babcox, Neil. A Search for Charismatic Reality. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985.
Butler, C. S. Test the Spirits: The Charismatic Phenomenon. Great Britain: Evangelical Press, 1985.
Dayspring, Building Blocks of Truth: What We Believe.
Elwell, Walter ED. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
Ferguson, Marylin. The Aguarian Conspiracy. New York: St. Matin's Press, 1984.
Fields, Rick. Chop Wood Carry Water. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.
Flynn, Leslie B. 19 Gifts of the Spirit. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1980.
Frank, Douglas. Less Than Conquerors. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmanns Publishing Co., 1986.
Groothuis, Douglas. Unmasking the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1986.
Gudel, Joseph. "Reincarnation, Did the Church Suppress It?" The Christian Research Journal. Summer 1987, pp. 8-12.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York:; Macmillam Publ. Co., 1961.
Knolls, Richard. Roman Catholicism: Issues and Evidences. Chattanooga, TN: John Ankerberg Show.
Koch, Kurt. Occult ABC. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publ., 1980.
Montgomery, John Warwick, Ed. Demon Possession. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publ., 1976.
Schaeffer, Francis A., The New Super-Spirituality, contained in Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. Vol.3. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982.
Sproul, R. C. Holiness of God. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publ. Inc., 1985.
Parallels Between Charismatic and New Age Movements. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article was originally written as a
class assignment at Denver Seminary in May 1988.
It was revised and posted on this Web site in February 1998.
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