Spiritual Conflict among Western Seekers

I am writing with a background as a parish pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran State Church in Denmark. The State Church has for centuries had an monopoly on spirituality and religion. In the latter part of the 20th century membership is decreasing, and in Copenhagen and the larger towns the church in a few years will loose her position as a majority religion. In the inner city of Copenhagen we have a membership rate less than 66% among grown ups and less than 33% of the children (0-14 years of age). This is not astonishing since less the 1% of the population in the cities attends church services on a given Sunday. The Church is there for baptism, confirmation, marriage and funeral and perhaps Christmas. The Church is a cultural institution and attended for concerts, but it is not the place to go for soul care, spiritual direction or guidance, healing or the great questions on the meaning of life.

If Denmark is typical for modern Western society this post ecclesiastical trend does not mean the end of spirituality or religion. We are confronted with a great number of new religious or spiritual movements and cults, a new, i.e. non Christian and non churchly, way of spiritual thinking, living, asking questions, seeking wholeness. It is a spiritual milieu of seekers, and the new spirituality of modern western man in the quest for meaning and right orientation in life could thus be called seekerism. Often this spiritual milieu is labelled New Age.

In his book ”Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue”  Neale Donald Walsch describes those who will receive from God the truths for which they are ready as ”those who truly want answers and who truly care about questions; … all those who have embarked upon the quests for truth with sincerity of heart, longing of soul, and openness of mind”. They will know that leaders, ministers, rabbis, priests, books, even the Bible are not authoritative sources of knowing God and one self. The god of Walsch says: ”I cannot tell you My Truth until you stop telling Me yours… Listen to your feelings. Listen to your Highest Thoughts. Listen to your experience. Whenever any one of these differ from what you’ve been told by your teachers, or read in your books, forget the words. Words are the least reliable purveyor of Truth.” [i]

It is very difficult to reach such a modern seeker in her or his quest with the gospel, if we meet her or him as an institution, having a dogmatic vocabulary and a key to all questions. But to be able to define the areas of the spiritual conflict among western seekers and in their relationship to the church, the gospel and the disciples of Jesus Christ, it would be necessary to describe this spiritual milieu, the New Age movement. For this end I refer to and quote the conclusions of Wouter J. Hanegraaff in his important study ”New Age Religion and Western Culture. Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought”:

New Age is not a unified ideology or world view or a centrally planned conspiracy. New Age is many different groupings, therapies, methods, spiritualities, teachers, networks. But New Age nevertheless has some common goals and aspirations due to fact that it arises out of a spiritual milieu, ”the cultic milieu”, which understands its practices, ideas and experiences as alternatives to dominant religious and cultural trends.[ii] In the first part of his conclusion Hanegraaff defines New Age as cultural criticism:

”All New Age religion is characterised by a criticism of dualistic and reductionistic tendencies in (modern) western culture, as exemplified by … dogmatic Christianity, on the one hand, and rationalistic/scientific ideologies, on the other. It believes that there is a ’third option’ which rejects neither religion and spirituality nor science and rationality, but combines them in a higher synthesis. It claims that the two trends which have hitherto dominated western culture (dogmatic Christianity and an equally dogmatic rationalistic/scientistic ideology) have been responsible for the current world crisis, and that the latter will only be resolved if and when this third option becomes dominant in society.” [iii]

This part of the summarising of what New Age is about is very important since it outlines both possibilities of encounter in the process of inculturation of the disciple fellowship in the seekers’ milieu and what makes it impossible for the Church to become New Age herself. We would have points of contact and co-operation in many of the areas of cultural criticism (scientific reductionism, materialism, consumerism, abuse of nature’s resources etc.), especially if we regain a fuller understanding of humankind’s role in creation. But we cannot share all of the criticism of the church – and certainly not the uniqueness of Gods self revelation in Jesus Christ.

The second part of his conclusions concerning New Age is that it is a secularised esotericism with historic roots in the renaissance, the radical reformers (Schwärmgeister), romanticism and occultism. From renaissance comes the inspirations from neoplatonism and hermeticism, the interest in astrology, magic and alchemy and the theosophical speculations. Hanegraaff writes:

”It adopts from traditional esotericism an emphasis on the primacy of personal religious experience and on this-worldly types of holism (as alternatives to dualism and reductionism), but generally reinterprets esoteric tenets from secularised perspectives. Since the new elements and ’causality’, the study of religions, evolutionism, and psychology are fundamental components, New Age religion cannot be characterised as a return to pre-Enlightenment worldviews but is to be seen as a qualitatively new syncretism of esoteric and secular elements.” [iv]

The esoteric legacy also provides some points of contact especially in defining the inner meaning of creation, its wholeness as living nature and as a network of internal correspondences, creation and every single creature as signs of a greater reality. In this area evangelicals need the help of patristic and especially the eastern orthodox tradition e.g. speaking of the Logos and the Spirit as the uncreated energies of God made known to us in the created energies of creation. The importance of personal experience is not far from our own conversion experiences and our understanding of the life of the disciple as an ongoing process of sanctification. Our big chance in meeting with seekers of the new spiritual milieu is the sharing of experiences. Our challenge is how to avoid experience as the sole evidence of truth and instead point to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life and the Holy Spirit as the one who leads us into all truth.

The final conclusion of Hanegraaf is:

”The New Age movement is the cultic milieu having become conscious of itself, in the later 1970s, as constituting a more or less unified ’movement’. All manifestations of this movement are characterised by a popular western culture criticism expressed in terms of a secularised esotericim.” [v]

Area of conflict: Alternative culture

Since the seekers’ milieu is to be understood as an alternative culture the first area of spiritual conflict is to be found on the cultural level, including politics, economy, and science. I have already pointed out the criticism of dualistic and reductionistic tendencies in ”dogmatic Christianity” and materialistic scientific way of thinking.

The danger for the church is to become hypnotised by the apparent criticism of the church and of our most precious doctrines, excluding ourselves from a constructive dialogue and co-operation on the many areas where we share common interests. Materialistic reductionism in the name of science is also our ”enemy”. It is a real temptation to avoid engaging in the work for world peace and justice, for the protection of nature, for animal rights, for a sound ecology in order not to be classified New Age or for fear of the Church being infiltrated by New Age through these people of good will.

The second danger in this area is that culture only will be influenced by New Age paradigms and paradigm shifts and thus loose its contacts with its spiritual roots, if Christians for fear of being identified with New Age withdraw for any contact with the new spiritual milieu and its ideologists as well as its seekers. If we as Christians are not present to modern seekers and in an open dialogue, sharing the dreams of a healed Earth as a common quest, we will not be able to give a biblical perspective of holism, of how God through his creative Word, the divine Logos ordered the universe so as to find its meaning, goal and consummation in Christ, who thus is the logos of creation, and of how sin disrupted this logos of creation, and of how we are in need of the same Christ for salvation and restoration of creation.

The third danger in this area has to do with a more or less conscious identification with the paradigms of the new spirituality. The conscious identification happens if a secularised church which is  in need of spirituality indiscriminately adopts any religious practice which happens to fill the spiritual void of its members and clergy. But as noted by A. Scott Moreau it is also a danger for evangelicals, perhaps unconsciously. I quote: ”The Culture, and together with it the evangelical church, has moved in a spiritual direction in the sense that personal spiritual powers, once out of sight in our worldview, have now come into prominence. In one respect we can rejoice – a spiritual approach to the world is more in tune with the biblical worldview than an agnostic (or atheistic) scientific materialism. In another respect, however, we must be aware of the danger shifting too far into what may be termed a functional evangelical animism and a corresponding set and ’Christian magical’ practices.” [vi]

Area of conflict: Anthropology, worldview and ethic

In the new spiritual milieu man is understood from an evolutionary point of view. Man is understood as consciousness or as a soul learning in a long process of transformation travelling through many lifetimes and in many incarnations to true self-consciousness realising his/her ultimate oneness with God, Life, all that is. Man is thus his/her own saviour who may or may not need the help of spiritual masters or guides. Man is often understood as a microcosmos who like a fragment of a holographic plate contains the whole picture. This is exemplified in the use of astrology. In the new age world view this means that holism is not just the harmony of body, soul, and mind/spirit, but New Age holism tends to be monism. The anti-dualistic stance of New Age means a dissolution of the opposites male-female, good-evil, true-false etc. The Christian will see a danger in this kind of relativism in the area of morals and truth. What will be the consequences for society if it abandons absolute values. Will this relativism endanger human responsibility? We need gifts of discernment, wisdom and love to manoeuvre in this area. For example new agers will understand our concept of salvation and forgiveness as moral laziness and irresponsibility, that we will not take responsibility for our own life, whereas they see the concepts of karma and reincarnation as an expression of learning through experience and thus taking responsibility for one’s own life. How to communicate our concern? How to explain that through recognition and confession of sin we really take responsibility, and that we through forgiveness is reinstalled in the freedom of the children of God being able to engage fully in loving care for our neighbour and for our fellow creatures without loosing our energy in the effort of saving ourselves? This is truly an area of spiritual conflict, because human longings for wholeness and  for personal and social transformation are veiled in the illusions of monism and evolution.

Area of conflict: Religion

In this area we are confronted with both practical and conceptual sides of New Age religion. I just want to point to a few areas of conflict.

The most important spiritual conflict with New Age and the modern western seekers has to do with conscious or unconscious teachings, which obscure, twist or contradict the saving truths of God’s self revelation in his eternal Logos and his Spirit, in creation, in the history of salvation and in the Bible. It is very obvious in the understanding of Christ in that part of New Age which is influenced by Theosophy. Christ or Maitreya as he is often called is together with the Buddha in this context understood as the leader of the Hierarchy, master of the second ray or emanation of the Solar Logos, the god of our solar system; Jesus is a lower master who was overshadowed by the Christ; and there are many male and female masters in the Hierarchy.[vii]

What are the sources of these teachings? Often they are channelled from the entities of the Hierarchy through the mind of human channels; sometimes they are conceived through visions or other intuitive means or faculties, in sudden mystical experiences or a growing awareness of the spiritual dimensions of the world facilitated through meditation. We have every reason to be suspicious of sources of spiritual information which speak of another Christ than Jesus. In January 2000 I thus heard a lecture on the Holy Grail in which the speaker said that Jesus in a former incarnation was known as Melchisedek and in fact was the Babylonian god Ea, who created the first man out of clay, but now had to bring into order what he disturbed when he through a wrong warning hindered man to receive the bread and water of life. The speaker also said that Ea was a fallen angel. Such information makes one wonder if the Jesus of this particular teacher is not an anti-Christian figure. As Christians we have to oppose such notions and help the modern seeker in her quest for truth to set things in order in accordance to God’s true self revelation.

Such views of course is in harmony with the above mentioned criticism of dogmatic Christianity and any established religion as such: ”The presentation of divine truth, as given by the churches in the West and by the  teachers in the East, has not kept pace with the unfolding intellect of the human spirit… The Church today is the tomb of the Christ and the stone of theology has been rolled to the door of the sepulchre… Christianity cannot be attacked; it is an expression … of the love of God, immanent in His created universe. Churchianity has, however laid itself wide open to attack…”[viii]

Another problem in the religion of modern seekers is the elitism, the sense of having reached a higher level of consciousness, sometimes combined with the idea that those who have attained higher consciousness in the new era, the age of Aquarius , will have the right to execute a kind of consequence pedagogy towards those who have not attained the same higher consciousness. Also some of the religious practices are dubious from a Christian point of view. What are the source of channelled messages? What does mediality do with the medium? How does mantic practices determine the life of the client, and what are the energies or entities behind the symbols of tarot and astrology? What happens to the person as person if the techniques of healing or self realisation blurs personality? In my practice as a pastor I have met several persons who mentally and spiritually were deeply hurt through such practices and left in confusion because of the above mentioned doctrines; some had to be helped through inner healing or deliverance, many through an act of confirmation and renewed commitment to their baptismal covenant – in short they had to receive Jesus in their heart and turn to God as God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

Disciples of Jesus Christ in the milieu of Western seekers, conflict and contact.

As mentioned we as Christians have a lot of opportunities for being involved in a spiritual conflict with modern seekers and New Age as such. The conflict is a fact – no doubt, but the fear of demons and the fear of being demonised through contact with the new spirituality and the milieu of seekers is perhaps the greatest danger for us. I think that one of the strategies of the Foe is the blinding of our spiritual and mental faculties from recognising the truths, the dedication and the insights of the quest for meaning, wholeness and fulfilment in our fellowmen. We must not be so preoccupied by our resentment to many of their wrong or strange practices, their false doctrines that we forget that they are sincere seekers, loved by God, potential disciples of Jesus and potential worshippers of the true God – if they meet the love of God in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I have lost many chances of leading seekers into the presence of God making right doctrines a condition for ministering to them, e.g. demanding that they should renounce their past lives experiences and their understanding of re-incarnation before I would go on praying for Healing. Now I want them to meet Jesus Christ and God in Him first through love-care being present to them in a way that will help them to interpret their experiences in another way. 

In the spiritual conflict in the milieu of seekerism our main strategy is not to discus right doctrines opposing all that we conceive of us dangerous, false or even demonic – this would only estrange those to whom we would like present the Gospel and let them remain being stuck in their criticism of the Church. Many of the persons involved in the new spirituality, in New Age and even occultism of the darker kinds are victims of revivalist and fundamentalist Christianity.[ix] No, our strategy is a positive one. We have to be among seekers as disciples of our Master and with the spirit of disciples.

The Master-disciple image is a dynamic image of what it is to be a Christian. We are disciples with Jesus as our Master, and we learn through following him, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. A disciple is on her way, in a process of learning; a disciple has not finished her quest and knows that there is much more to explore since the depths of the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ is inexhaustible. A disciple is committed to her Master. On our way with our Master we accept anyone who begins to focus on Jesus as a source of meaning and direction in life as a co-disciple. She may not understand all the formulations of the Nicene Creed nor express herself in standard Christian vocabulary. But she is on the road and she travels with other seekers who are following the Master.  The Master gives the unity and identity of the fellowship, and he is so wonderful and his words have such an authority, and his love is so great that there is no room for the sectarian attitudes of Christendom.

It is the dynamic love-faith relationship between the Master and the disciples which will be the authentic answer to the quest of the modern spiritual seekers. Another factor which attracts seekers is the charismatic dimension of the disciples as the body of Christ. The gifts of the Spirit are the authentic means of inspiration and healing. Charismatic fellowships and churches may become new spiritual centres because of the presence of the Master and because the power of the Holy Spirit which helps the seeker to taste the true new age – that is the kingdom of God.

In the Master’s Light

In  the summer 1994 I was speaking with the Lord of my concern with many of my friends in the new age milieu. I had went a long way with some of them thought that now they were ready to give their life to Jesus and receive him as their Saviour, but my hopes were disappointed, and many counselling sessions were frustrated, because the clients did not seem willing to drop their non-Christian concepts. Suddenly I heard Jesus speaking in my heart and mind. He told me how much he appreciated their commitment in their quest for wholeness and the meaning of life, that he recognised their sacrifices in finding a new life style making progress in personal development and in caring for creation, but also that he shared my sadness on their behalf, because their “light work” often ended up in darkness. Then Jesus told me to start some spiritual meetings in the New Age milieu under the title “In the Master’s Light”. These services started May 1995. In the Master’s Light recognises the quest of New Agers and shares many of their values. Such as their reaction to materialism and self-interest. We respect their genuine quest for spiritual values in a materialistic age, but we are very specific in expressing that among all the spiritual masters in the seekers’ milieu and over against the Hierarchy i.e. the Masters revered in Theosophy Jesus is our only Master.

In the Master’s Light tries to meet the longing to learn spiritual values with teachings inspired by the Holy Spirit. In meditation we advocate the use of the “Jesus Prayer” from Eastern Christianity as a kind of mantra: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me! Or we invite to meditate on a word from the Bible. We expect the Holy Spirit to inspire preaching, and to come with prophesy and revelation. When Jesus spoke to me on In the Master’s Light he promised a prophetic message for each teaching at the meetings; we call these messages “inspirations” or “the direct communication of the Master”. We try to meet the longing for wholeness and healing by inviting those present for the healing of their heart. We avoid adversarial arguments in speaking with those present but rather try to share experiences. We witness that the testimony of a disciple of Jesus is a seed of truth. To plant such seeds of truth we first have to listen to the other person, her experiences, her belief, her values, her need. We try to use the seekers’ language and forms to express of own spirituality and our own walking the way with the Master.

We have learned not to press the seeker into conformity with ourselves. We do not start by correcting their opinions as if we understood their experiences better than they themselves do. But we invite them to meet the Master and to taste his goodness and loving kindness. When they start reorientating their lives on their experience of Jesus we accept them as fellow disciples; the more they focus on the Master the more we trust them to correct what is not in accordance with the Master’s teachings and his life, death and resurrection and presence through the Holy Spirit.

To day we have In the Master’s Light in 8 places in Denmark. In 1999 we prayed with more than 1500 seekers for the healing of the heart in their relationship to God, their own inner being and to the surrounding world. We have had disciple training classes for seekers in Copenhagen and Aarhus. We have had retreats and workshops and been present at New Age exhibitions such as “Body Mind and Spirit” and we have been invited to share our faith in New Age magazines, radio programs and societies. Many New Agers now come regularly  for worship and pastoral care in the involved congregations.

 


[i] Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue. New York 1995. Introduction and page 8.

[ii] Wouter J. Hanegraaff, ”New Age Religion and Western Culture. Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden, New York, Köln 1996. P 15 quotes Colin Campbell: ”Whereas cults are by definition a largely transitory phenomenon, the cultic milieu is, by contrast, a constant feature of society.” Cults arises out of the cultic milieu. However different the cultic movements are, their spokesmen ”have a common cause in attacking orthodoxy and in defining individual liberty of belief and practice. Arising from this there is a prevailing orientation of mutual sympathy and support, such that the various cultic movements rarely engage in criticism of each other… Since this tradition emphasises that the single ideal of unity with the divine can be attained by a diversity of paths it tend to be ecumenical, super-ecclesiastic, syncretistic and tolerant in outlook.”

[iii] Ibid. p 517.

[iv] Ibid. pp 520-521.

[v] Ibid. p 522.

[vi] A. Scott Moreau, Religious Borrowing as a two-way Street: An Introduction to Animistic Tendencies in the Euro-North American Context. In: Edwards Rommen and Harold Netland (ed.), Christianity and the Religions. A Biblical Theology of World Religions. Pasadena, California 1995. P 172.

[vii] As an illustration of this conflict and what to discus in an open dialogue with New Agers I quote the conclusions of my paper The Maitreya-Theosophy of Asger Lorentsen and the Shan-Movement in: Eileen Barker and Margit Warburg (ed.), New Religions and New Religiosity. Aarhus 1998. Pp 191-203:

The Theosophy of Asger Lorentsen and the Shan-movement is a challenge to Christians because of its revivalist language, as, for example, its use of the heart metaphor brings it close to revivalism’s “Jesus in the heart”. The fascination with Jesus is strong within the movement, and Asger Lorentsen even wants his new work to be done under the Master Jesus.

In this interest in Jesus we have a good starting point for a dialogue, in an exchange of the experiences of healing, salvation, and peace. But this does not exclude an honest talk about Jesus as the Christ/Messiah: First, there is no valid argument from the scriptures in which the word Christ originates to understand “Christ” as anything other than the title and the function of the promised saviour, born into the family of the great king David.

Secondly, in the experience of the Christian and in the evidence of The new Testament Jesus and Christ cannot be separated. Thirdly, it is unhistorical to use Christ synonymously for the Maitreya. It is not true to either Jewish/Christian or Buddhist tradition. Seen from a Christian viewpoint, what is Christ if he is not the historic Jesus? It is not satisfying to the Christian that the Maitreya Theosophist states that his sources are not historic, but esoteric.

What is also challenging is the understanding of the planetary or cosmic meaning of the death of Jesus on the cross. In the revivalist Christian tradition, we have concentrated on what Jesus has done for me; but with their cosmological considerations the Maitreya Theosophists challenge us to take up the Christology of the letters of Paul to the Ephesians and the Colossians.

According to the Shan movement, the redemptive work of the Christ is the transformative energy emanating from the Solar Logos; but it is not an active saving act from outside fallen humanity. It is rather a release of what is hidden in man, since he is essentially a minor aspect of the divine. The  Christ is an archetype of the human soul. The grace of god means, in an occult sense, that the individual soul will get the help he is ready to open up to and receive. Thus the energy of the crucifixion is not redemptive in a Christian sense, but is facilitating the self-redemptive work of the soul.

This is a consequence of what I shall call the impersonal understanding of the divine. I know that Asger Lorentsen will say that god is not experienced in an impersonal way, because he/she is experienced through beings who are like god to us. However, the ultimate source of life is not conceptualised by the Theosophists in personal terms, just as human beings have to abandon personality to be made whole to themselves. The Christian experience, however, is that of a personal encounter with God, a communicating with him and a resting with him in adoration.

I can of course see other areas for an honest conversation on the contents of our respective spiritualities, experiences and faiths. I could mention a talk on eschatology and the meaning of history, question what man is, and how to discern true and false channelling or overshadowing, and how cognition is possible if creation from the highest point of view is illusion.

I don’t consider the members of Shan movement to be enemies. I see in them brothers or sisters who like me are on their way to God – or, at least, are searching for him. I want an honest dialogue with them in which we dare to recognise the differences in our beliefs and that our truths cannot be reconciled without violating our basic assumptions and experiences. Such an honest dialogue about religious truth will help us to avoid slander. It will also help us to be honest about where we see the dangers of getting lost in illusions and seduction. An honest dialogue will help us to learn more about ourselves from the critical viewpoint of others. What shall we do if Asger Lorentsen is right in what he wrote to me august 1992?

 ’The lack of sanctifying light in the churches make many people seek the inner way at other places, where the experience of an inner reality is stronger.’”

[viii] Alice A. Bailey, The Reappearance of the Christ. New York. Tenth Printing 1984. Pp 139-140.

[ix] Cf. John Warwick Montgomery, Principalities and Powers. Minneapolis, Minnesota 1981. Pp 167ff: ”Converts to Church-of-Satan groups very often have a history of fundamentalist upbringing.”

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