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Parallels Between Charismatic and New Age Movements
By Gary F. Zeolla
In writing this two-part article, I will be drawing on my own personal experience in the charismatic movement. I attended an independent, charismatic church for four years. I left after much soul searching, Bible study, and research. Some of my reasons for leaving will be elaborated on in this article. I prefer to leave the full name and address out, because I still have relatives and friends who attend the church. I will simply refer to it as Dayspring.
I will also be drawing on research I have done one the New Age Movement, both through the reading of books and from talking to those involved in the movement.
Movements, Not Organizations
The teachings of charismatic churches can vary from one to another. This is because it is a movement, not an organization. Also, sometimes it is difficult to ascertain what a particular church teaches since most don't have published confessions of faith. Thus, you cant be sure what is taught and believed till you're deep into the movement. Fortunately, however, Dayspring does have a confession of faith printed. I will be referring to it throughout this article.
This lack of uniformity is the first point of comparison between the movements. The beliefs of New Agers vary from group to group and person to person. Thus, it is also difficult to know what you're getting into from the onset in this movement.
Given this lack of uniformity, what is said below does not necessarily apply to all charismatic churches or persons who would describe themselves as charismatics or to all New Age groups or all New Agers. For that matter, since it has been several years since I left Dayspring it may have changed somewhat since then. And my comments do not apply to everyone who attended that particular church.
That said, the below does relate what I experienced while in the church. And I have visited many other charismatic churches, both in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Denver, Colorado areas. And I found that my experiences at Dayspring were not that unique.
Also, I have tried to quote from more influential New Age writers to try to relate as best as possible what is generally seen in the New Age Movement.
Experience, Not Truth
Even if these churches and groups had published statements of faith, few of those entering would probably read them anyway. People entering these movements are generally concerned with having an experience, not finding the truth. As New Ager Marylin Ferguson says, "We begin to trust intuition, whole brain knowing ... As we become attuned to the inner signals, they seem stronger" (Ferguson, p. 107).
This reference to inner signals reminds me of a phrase I heard continually at Dayspring, "God showed me...." People would talk like they had a hotline to God. They would consider an inner "feeling" to always be Gods voice and then act according to what this "voice" said. In other words, their actions are determined by feelings, not intellect.
Both movements also put heavy emphasis on dreams. New Ager Rick Fields writes, "Since ancient times, dreams have been honored as a source of wisdom and guidance in life" (Fields, p. 25).
This is not to say God can't speak to someone in a dream or the "still, small voice" (1Kings 9:12; KJV). However, dreams or inner feelings should not be used to the exclusion of rationally weighing the options in a decision and checking Scripture.
It is because oft his emphasis on feelings, rather than intellect, that it can sometimes be difficult to talk rationally to people involved in these movements about their beliefs.
Dayspring's confession reads, "...we have no desire to debate doctrine." (p. 5). This attitude is common in both movements. Since they just "know" they're right, why discuss it? Besides this, " . . many have very little content to their faith, everything is experience -- emotion (or emotionalism). is the base" (Schaeffer, p. 391).
Backgrounds of Adherents
The reason for this non-intellectual attitude relates to how people get involved in these movements in the first place. Many have come out of a "dead" Christian background. At Dayspring, about half of the members were ex-Catholics. The rest were mostly ex-Protestants. The church itself used to be Baptist.
Compare this composition with Ferguson's statistics for the backgrounds of the New Agers she surveyed: 55% Protestant, 20% Jewish, 18% Catholic (p. 367).
In other words, many in these movements came out of Christian backgrounds that they did not find emotionally fulfilling. So they are looking for an experience or as Ferguson calls it, "a direct connection with the spiritual" (p. 363-4). When they find one, they will generally jump in without questioning whether it is valid or not.
The Apostle John wrote, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (1John 4:1). But the new charismatic or New Ager never seem to stop and question what the source of their new experience is: whether it is from God, from Satan, if it is a purely psychological experience with no supernatural source, or even an out-right deception.
Even A New Age commentator acknowledges this Problem, "I think one of the greatest faults in the spiritual (New Age). movements is that people are not willing to look at what is going on and say maybe it's wrong" (N. D. Smith as quoted in Ankerberg, inside front cover).
Not Testing Experiences
The kinds of experiences I am referring to are varied. For the charismatic, they can include speaking in tongues, "the baptism in the Spirit," healing, and being slain in the Spirit. For the New Ager it is usually some form of an altered state of conscience. These include drugs, TM, hypnosis, biofeedback, and also healing.
Are these two groups of experiences related? Ferguson states that a mystical experience can radically alter one's values and perception (p. 363). Any of the listed charismatic experiences can do the same. Philosopher William James states, "Mystical states seem to those who experience them to be new states of knowledge. They are insights into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect." (Ferguson, p. 371)
If this new information is God given, then it's valid. But is it? If it's of God, there should be a consistency in the revelations and they should cohere to Scripture. Also, there should be a provable nature to it, some way to validate its claims (1Thes. 5:21f).
Occult researcher Kurt Koch records several cases of his having to cast out demons who first possessed a person when he/she spoke in tongues (pp. 206-210).
Ex-charismatic C.S. Butler records an incident of a man who wanted to receive the "baptism" -
I let my mind become quite blank and began yielding myself to the external power outside myself that seemed to be pleading for full control of me. At once a feeling of paralysis began to numb my feet. It soon affected my legs...! became alarmed.
"This thing is coming upon me from beneath...." Without a moment's hesitation, I cried out, "May the blood of Christ protect me from this thing!" At once it vanished and I was normal again (p.99).
Unfortunately, most are not this discerning. The man standing beside him "received" the baptism. Compare this story with one from Koch.
He tells of how a hypnotist finally gave up when a group of Christians were praying. The hypnotist announced to the audience, "There are opposing forces present. We will stop the demonstration" (p. 98).
So clearly, one source of these experiences can be demonic. There can also be psychological forces and deception present. If a truly supernatural event has occurred, there should be no natural explanations. However, in a lot of cases there are.
Neil Babcox, another ex-charismatic, reports how he learned to speak in tongues and gained fluency through practice (pp. 64-65). I've witnessed this scenario. A seeker is told to repeat sounds the leader makes. When he does, he's told he's speaking in tongues! This is not the way things happened in the book of Acts.
Also, tongue speaking can be a normal religious phenomenon. It has been heard among Muslims, Mormons, spiritualist mediums and various other groups (Flynn, p. 184). Some Christians would say this indicates demonic activity. Personally, I feel in many cases it is simply a psychological event with no supernatural origins. Butler arrives at the same conclusion (p. 86).
Similarly, psychical/ psychological explanations can be applied to mystical experiences undergone when using drugs. These psychedelic phenomenon don't need Satan to explain them. Chemical changes in the brain are an adequate explanation.
What's interesting is, "there is no element of the LSD experience that does not have a non-drug counterpart" (Ferguson, p.375). Ferguson then refers to such New Age practices as bio-feedback, hypnosis, and TM. Could it be that these New Age practices (and maybe even some charismatic practices). somehow alter the chemical balance in the brain? If so, the resulting experiences gained from engaging in them would be natural, not supernatural experiences.
However, I do want to add here, God is sovereign. He could choose to impart a spiritual gift at His discretion (1Cor 12:18). The "fruits" of the experience need to be evaluated to determine its source. This includes both subsequent doctrinal and lifestyle changes.
Belief in the miraculous healing of physical ailments is something both groups have in common. Here again, in my opinion, very often nothing supernatural is occurring.
Many claimed healings are due to the placebo effect. Most of the healings I witnessed were of pain: headaches, backaches, arthritis, etc The whipped up emotions at a healing session could easily account for the reported relief of pain.
The same is true in New Age circles. Cult researcher John Ankerberg relates, "The reports of genuine cures are not so much related to the individual treatments used; rather many times it depends on the psychological factors involved" (Ankerberg, p. 24). One proof of this is that I frequently saw the same person going forward one week who had been "healed" the previous week.
The more miraculous healing claims are usually not verifiable. Butler reports how a physician investigated 23 cases of people who were "healed" at a Kathryn Kuhlman crusade. None of the healings proved genuine (Butler, p. 78).
In four years of attending Dayspring I heard claims from healers of everything from giving sight to the blind to raising the dead. However, after viewing probably hundreds of healing sessions, I never saw anything of this sort occur. Why then do so many claim to have witnessed such events? One example will suffice.
An evangelist from "Jews for Jesus" was visiting my former church. When he gave an alter call for healing, a man with a walker slowly shuffled forward. Hands were laid on him and people started shouting, "You're healed! You're healed! Praise the Lord!" The man shuffled back to his seat using his walker.
A woman came forward with a limp. The scene was repeated with shouts praising God for her healing. She limped away. I'm serious! I felt like I was the only one who could see that the emperor had no clothes.
Again, to qualify, none of the above should be taken to mean that God can't heal. Again, He is sovereign and will do as He wills. But God doesn't need anyone to lie for Him!
The whole point of this discussion is, people are entering these movements and changing their entire world views, especially of the supernatural, because of these experiences. But if they are explainable via natural means or worse, are demonic, these people are being deceived. "The demonic can give wonderful visions and experiences in order to fool people into believing a false religious view of the world" (Ankerberg, p. 6; see 2Cor 11:14).
We need to judge our experiences by the Bible and base our beliefs on the revealed truths of Scripture, not on an experience. As Gordon Lewis, Philosophy of Religion professor at Denver Seminary, writes, "The Christian's supreme source of information about life after death and fullness of life at the present is the Bible" (quoted in Montgomery, p. 356).
Use of the Bible
The mention of the Bible above brings us to the next comparison: the two movements use of the Bible. Both groups try to show that their beliefs are consistent with Scripture. And both groups use faulty methods in their Biblical interpretations. I will use one example from each group to demonstrate this.
I continued to receive Dayspring's newsletter even after I left the ,church. In Dayspring's confession, it reads, "It is our God-given commission to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, not to defend it" (p. 5). The newsletter tried to back up this stance with Romans 8:24, "hope that is seen is not hope." The newsletter stated that this meant we shouldn't try to intellectually convince someone that the Gospel is true. We should simply tell them to believe.
There are two big problems with this. First of all, the Bible teach that we should defend the Gospel (see 1Peter 3:15; Col 4:6; Phil 1:16; Jude 3). Secondly, Romans 8:24 has nothing to do with evangelism. "Hope" in this passage refers to the resurrection. We will no longer be hoping to be resurrected after we have been resurrected. Thus, a verse has been taken out of context to make the Bible teach something that is contradicted by the rest of the Scriptures.
New Agers do the same with Psalm 82:16, "I said, 'You are gods.'" They try to use this verse to back up their pantheistic belief that we are all a part of God. Again, we have the same two problems. First, the next verse reads, "But you shall die like men" (Ps. 82:7). Thus, God is not teaching the inner divinity of all men. Secondly, the Bible from Genesis 1 :1 on does not teach pantheism and is clear on the fact there is only one God (see Isa 43:10; 44:8 other verses too numerous to site).
So both groups use faulty exegesis to try to support unbiblical beliefs.
is continued at
Parallels Between Charismatic and New Age Movements: Part Two.
See end of Part Two.
Parallels Between Charismatic and New Age Movements. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
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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