Ideas are powerful. Some ideas are so coercive that they can transform our entire worldview. The Galatians had been “running well” (Gal. 5:7). However, they fell under the influence of a powerful, coercive idea. Along with trusting Christ, the Galatians succumbed to the belief that they had to also become Jews and follow the law in order to be saved.
Rather than contributing to salvation, Paul argued that this one belief would undermine salvation (Gal. 5:2-4). It had the power of undermining their entire standing before their Savior. So Paul termed the belief “leaven” or “yeast”:
• “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:9)
A pinch of yeast can transform the entire loaf. This pinch can even take us “captive”:
• See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:8)
A thought or philosophy can potentially take us captive, away from Christ. Even though our salvation is a done-deal, we are continually warned to be vigilant against false ideas. Consequently, we have to remain in “warfare” mode:
• The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:4-5)
The battle consists of taking “captive every thought” so that each will coincide with our faith and not oppose it. If we don’t take these aggressive thoughts captive, they will take us captive. There is no neutral ground.
If we surf the web, we need protection – an anti-virus program. This program scans every piece of information that attempts to enter our computers. Some bits of information are so lethal – that’s why they’re called “viruses” – that they can destroy our computer. If the incoming information represents a threat, the program will not grant it entry.
We have to be equally vigilant about what we believe. Some beliefs are so lethal, they will consume or transform all of the other beliefs. Karl Giberson had been the co-administrator of the Biologos Foundation, a blog devoted to promoting theistic evolution. Giberson had written Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, to encourage Christians to believe in evolution. However, he conceded that evolution was such a powerful idea – an acid – that it had corroded some of his Christian beliefs:
• Acid is an appropriate metaphor for the erosion of my fundamentalism, as I slowly lost confidence in the Genesis story of creation and the scientific creationism that placed this ancient story within the framework of modern science….[Darwin’s] acid dissolved Adam and Eve; it ate through the Garden of Eden; it destroyed the historicity of the events of creation week. It etched holes in those parts of Christianity connected to the stories—the fall, “Christ as the second Adam,” the origins of sin, and nearly everything else that I counted sacred. (9-10)
However, he assured his readers that the acid would dissolve no more of his Christian beliefs. However, some years later, he wrote that the God of the Old Testament was a “genocidal” tyrant.
Once we open the door to certain viruses, they will not stop at the entrance. I think that he took his fatal step when he concluded that the modern theories of science were more authoritative than the Bible.
“Christian evolutionist,” Ron Choong, the founder of the Academy for Christian Thought, is even more explicit about this virus:
• Darwinism exposes Christianity’s weakness in keeping up with the growing scientific knowledge. We use the fruits of scientific technology and blissfully ignore its implications for a contemporary and comprehensive biblical worldview.
Instead of allowing the Bible to critique our lives and thoughts, he is convinced that the modern scientific consensus must stand in judgment over the Bible and dictate our theology. As a result of this idea, Choong recommends that the church:
• Construct a biblically faithful comprehensive worldview which accounts for the growth of scientific knowledge.
This single step places every teaching of the Bible up-for-grabs. Unsurprisingly, he no longer believes in a historical Adam and Eve, and his understanding of the Fall, creation and all subsequent theology must be re-configured according to the dictates of the virus – evolution.
There are many other kinds of viruses invading the church. The late mystic and Catholic Priest, Henry Nouwen, has become very popular in many churches and seminaries. He wrote:
• The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart…This way of simple prayer…opens us to Gods active presence.
You might not think that this idea is a virus that can re-shape our faith. It seems very innocuous. If you know Scripture, you might even recognize that it is unbiblical. Against this kind of practice, Jesus had taught:
• And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)
Certainly, Nouwen’s mystical teaching involves repeating “many [meaningless] words” in the manner of pagans, but you might think, “big deal!”
Well, it is a big deal! Nouwen claimed that this ritual would open “us to God’s active presence.” This claim insists that we are missing something – something vitally important! Consequently, it is in violation of many other verses:
• All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
While Nouwen’s teaching claims that we are missing something, Scripture instead assures us that we are “thoroughly equipped.” We are also complete in Christ (Col. 2:9-10). These assurances give us the confidence that, in Christ, we have everything that we need. This is important to know, especially when we are going through trials and are tempted to think that we are missing something. If this doubt is not Scripturally addressed, we will become susceptible to every wind of doctrine and every promise to harness God’s grace by a new technique.
This teaching also causes us to doubt God’s omnipotence – perhaps He isn’t able to provide without Nouwen’s formula – and suspect that we are lacking “God’s active presence.”
Quaker mystic, Richard Foster, informs us that we are actually missing God’s boat if we don’t have our prayers met in a timely manner:
• Often we assume we are in contact when we are not…Often people will pray and pray with all the faith in the world, but nothing happens. Naturally, they are not contacting the channel. We begin praying for others by first centering down and listening to the quiet thunder of the Lord of hosts. Attuning ourselves to divine breathings is spiritual work, but without it our praying is vain repetition. Listening to the Lord is the first thing…(Celebration of Disciplines, 34)
In essence, Foster claims that our prayers and faith aren’t adequate without his particular prayer techniques. If we are not receiving, we are not “contacting the channel” of God. We’re missing the spiritual boat. How destructive of faith! According to Foster, it is no longer about believing through adversity; it’s about receiving! If we adopt this belief, our entire orientation towards faith and God will be radically corrupted.
Foster and Nouwen convey wrong ideas about God. They suggest that blessing is a matter of learning certain rituals or techniques rather than those truths that Scripture reaffirms – faith, repentance, and obedience.
If we are blessed as we grow in an understanding of God (Jer. 9:23-24; 2 Peter 1:2-3; Psalm 1), then this false teaching undermines this. Nouwen has taken us beyond the safety of Scripture against the counsel of Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; 1 Cor. 4:6-7). If his techniques are so essential to experiencing “God’s active presence,” why does not Scripture ever give us a hint of the “quiet repetition of a single word?”
Nouwen is certainly not alone in teaching non-Scriptural mystical techniques – rituals – in place of solid Scriptural nourishment. Yoga is also beating against the walls of the church. Yoga instructor Brooke Boon claims that, as yoga connects mind and body,
• “…we become more authentic people, able to hear God and experience Him in previously impossible ways.” (quoted by CRJ Vol.3, #4, 2008)
If yoga is so essential to the Christian life, why doesn’t Scripture at least mention it? No one seeking God was ever instructed to do some physical exercises in order to “hear” Him. This suggests that God cannot make His will know apart from yoga. Evidently, our God depends on us first learning certain stretches before He can truly reveal Himself to us.
Instead of placing trust in Christ and His teachings, Boon requires us to trust her techniques in order to “hear God and experience Him in previously impossible ways.” In short, fully following Christ is not truly possible apart from yoga. If we believe this, we are left questioning the various Scriptures assuring us that we are complete in Christ and the Word. We are also left wondering how many other spiritual practices we might need to be truly complete. Our faith thereby becomes self-centered and not God-centered.
I don’t think that there is anything wrong with doing yoga exercises. However, believing that yoga can make us “more authentic people, able to hear God and experience Him in previously impossible ways,” is entirely another matter. If we believe this, then we have to modify everything else that we believe. It reduces the Christian life to a set of non-Scriptural exercises, thereby demeaning the milk and meat of Scripture. However, Scripture doesn’t not equate doing exercises with honoring God:
• For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:8)
Physical training cannot accomplish what Boon claims it can. However, this is only a minor problem. Boon’s claim conveys wrong ideas about our Savior. It suggests that He cares more about bodily training than righteousness and holiness; that He is more pleased with stretches than with confession and repentance. It also suggests that He is pleased when we borrow ideas from other religions.
Some ideas are so powerful that they commandeer our lives. If I believe that my neighbor is trying to kill me, this belief will take control of my thoughts, feelings, and plans.
Although the relationship between thinking and acting (and experiencing) should be obvious, it has been denigrated by our postmodern society. Consequently, religious beliefs and doctrines are often disdained as dead and inconsequential. Therefore, in place of truth, we seek experiences, feelings and relationships, failing to see that these important commodities rest upon the foundation of our ideas and thinking.
In contrast to this thinking, Christian doctrine is utterly essential to our lives. For example, if we believe, as the Bible instructs us, that once we confess our sins, God forgives and cleanses us (1 John 1:9), this truth will alter our entire relationship with others, God and even with ourselves. We will consequently be charitable with ourselves and others, convinced that God fully accepts us. Convinced that God loves and accepts us, we can begin to love and accept others. We will also adore our Savior for releasing us from the bonds of sin and its guilt.
If we understand this, our first question should be, “What is the truth?” and not “How can I obtain this experience?” A little belief-leaven leavens the entire worldview-loaf. This pertains both to truths and lies. When we are nurtured by right thinking, we can expect it to lead into right doing and right feeling.